Hambantota goes to China, Malaysian leader worries for Sri Lankan sovereignty

Hambantota has made not just New Delhi worried about Chinese expansionism in South Asia, but even Malaysian leaders are uneasy over the way China has taken over the port.

Sri Lanka has handed over the commercial activities of this port to a Chinese company and received a check of $292 million, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera informed recently.

China Merchants Port Holdings will be handling the Chinese-built Hambantota port on a 99-year lease. The port is near the main shipping route from Asia to Europe and likely to play a major role in China’s “Belt and Road” initiative which has many nations of the world worried. Malaysia, however, is closer to China and is unlikely to have much say but even here Penang Deputy Chief Minister Prof. Dr.Ramasamy has expressed concerns.

He said, quoting a newspaper report on December 11, that ‘there goes the national sovereignty of Sri Lanka!’

Ramasamy also said that the handing over commercial operations of the port to a Chinese company as a move to settle debts owed by the Sri Lankan government has serious implications for the complex geopolitical considerations in South Asia.

He also said that ‘i am sure the US and India are perturbed by this deal. For the government of the day, a deal handing over the port for commercial purposes or not does not not augur well for the long term interest of the country. I am sure in the coming days, weeks and months, the opposition will have field day taking the government to task for “selling out”. He is right on both counts; that India and the opposition will indeed be perturbed at the development.

India had recently sent Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa, Chief of the Air Staff on an official visit to Sri Lanka from 11-14 Dec 17, to deliberate on matters of mutual interest related to regional security. Namal Rajapaksa, Hambantota’s MP and son of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa tweeted his anguish and bashed the Sri Lankan government for only being ‘interested  in profiting from giving away national assets.’ He also wondered how ‘many more will follow after Hambantota.’ He also accused Maithripala Sirisena government for having had ‘absolutely no regard for the welfare of workers at the Hambantota Port.’

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