China forces countries in Indian Ocean region to ‘trade debt with sovereignty’

Taipei: China has created financial dependence amongst several South Asian and Southeast Asian countries and has pushed its agenda of establishing commercial bases in the Indian Ocean region to the extent of trading debt with sovereignty, said Taiwan Times weekend editor Lisa Conklin.

Conklin in her article titled, “Chinese Footprints On Indian Ocean Shorelines – Sri Lanka” pointed out that in the case of Sri Lanka, the Chinese investment can be perceived “as a classic case of China’s imperialistic plans on display, threatening peace and stability not just in Sri Lanka but the entire region itself.”

“Over the years, China has tried to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) through its `string of pearls’ formula aimed at expanding the country’s military and strategic interests under the guise of economic development,” the editor wrote in The Taiwan Times.

The scribe stated that Sri Lanka has signed an USD 1.1 billion deal to lease 70 per cent of its southern seaport, Hambantota to China Merchants Port Holdings Ltd to handle its commercial operations on a 99-year lease and added that the politicians and locals had opposed the decision.

Despite this, in December 2017, Sri Lanka handed over the control of the southern sea port of Hambantota to China amid concerns over China’s efforts to expand its influence in the region, according to The Taiwan Times with members of the opposition calling it a “sell out to China”.

Maithripala Sirisena, the then Sri Lankan President “went on to criticise the deal as robbery in broad daylight and predicted that the country would become a colony of the Chinese.”

Even Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, Justice Minister in Sirisena’s Cabinet criticised the lease to China as a violation of Constitution and akin to selling national assets, she wrote.

“While China painted a rosy picture about how Hambantota Port would help the Sri Lankan economy grow, just 175 ships arrived at the port in 2017. With depleting revenue, the island country was unable to repay the Chinese loans and eventually was forced to give China a controlling equity stake,” Conklin wrote.

“It is unfortunate that despite persistent warnings by the international community, Sri Lanka fell into this vicious `debt-trap’ gamble. In the process the country has lost its sovereign right over a strategic port leading to huge concerns over the security of independent nations in the region,” she added.

She further called for the international community to reiterate its commitment to maintaining the sovereignty and independence of nations as equals and assists countries caught in this vicious debt trap laid out by Beijing.

“With increasing Chinese presence in countries in the South Asian and South-East Asian region, it is time the international community reiterates its commitment to maintaining the sovereignty and independence of nations as equals and assists countries caught in this vicious debt trap from falling prey to one country’s imperialistic and predatory tactics,” she wrote.

This comes after Beijing, in January this year, passed a law that gives power to its coastguard to fire on foreign vessels and demolish structures built in disputed waters.

China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and its efforts to advance into the Indian Ocean are seen to have challenged the established rules-based system.

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