Hambantota port Current Affairs - 2019
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United States has announced to grant $39 million as part its foreign military financing to Sri Lanka to boost maritime security. The US funding for Sri Lanka is part of its $300 million set aside for South and Southeast Asia to ensure free, open, and rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region.
The foreign military financing to Sri Lanka will be subject to approval by US Congress. It is viewed latest move by US to counter China’s increasing strategic influence on Indian Ocean island. This contribution will also support Bay of Bengal initiative and Sri Lanka’s humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) priorities. This will be first US grant to Sri Lanka since 2009, after US had stopped arms sales to Sri Lanka during height of its Tamil separatist war that ended in 2009. During this time, US was highly critical of human-rights record of Sri Lankan Government led by then President Mahinda Rajapakse. This had led Sri Lanka to seek China as its alternative partner.
China (world’s second-largest economy) in recent has raised its investments in major ports in Sri Lanka, which are key to its ambitious ‘Belt and Road’ infrastructure initiative. Under it, China has vowed to keep providing financial help, including loans to Sri Lanka despite warnings about its mounting debt. Sri Lanka has already handed over control of Hambantota sea port to China on 99-year lease in 2017, after its inability to repay Chinese loans for the $1.4 billion project. The port in Hambantota straddles world’s busiest east-west shipping route and also gives strategic foothold to China in region, threating long dominance of India in the region. International Monetary Fund (IMF) also has warned Sri Lanka over its heavy debt after it bailed out island nation in June 2016 with $1.5 billion loan.
Sri Lanka has signed a US $1.1 billion deal to sell a 70% stake of the strategic Hambantota deep-sea port to China. Hambantota port is a deep-water port in the southern tip of Sri Lanka. It sits close to busy east-west shipping lanes connecting Europe and Asia.
The deal was signed between Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and China Merchants Port Holding Co. (CMPort). Under the 99-year lease agreement, CMPort will invest up to US $1.1 billion in the port and marine-related activities. CMPort will be only responsible for commercial operations, while the SLPA will handle port’s operations, security and services.
The port is expected to play a key role in China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI), which will link ports and roads between China and
Europe. It is also considered that, this deal gives an advantage to China in the bunkering business, which provides fuel to ships.
India is apprehensive that the port is part of Chinese ‘string of pearls’ with an objective to surround India and dock its military vessels. The String of pearls is a geopolitical theory on potential Chinese intentions in the Indian Ocean region. It refers to the network of Chinese military and commercial facilities and relationships along its sea lines of communication extending from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan. These sea lines run through several major maritime choke points such as the Strait of Mandeb, Strait of Hormuz, Strait of Malacca and the Lombok Strait as well as other strategic maritime centres in Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Somalia.