Sri Lanka trapped by Chinese credits

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Aruna Roshanta observes the coming and going of the waves crashing at the foot of her terrace. Plunging in his memories, the fisherman of Pitipana regrets the disappearance of the beach in front of his house. In four years, salt water has covered everything. Without the rock dyke, his house would no doubt have known the fate of three buildings in the neighborhood that have recently sank in the Indian Ocean. The Sri Lankan means a shoal thirty meters from the edge. "Five years ago, the beach stretched to the reefs you see there"he explains, showing us photos archived on his mobile phone.

From the village of Pitipana to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka located about thirty kilometers to the south, entire beaches were devoured by the waters between 2014 and 2018. An erosion that is not natural: Aruna Roshanta date the changes of the coast at the arrival of the Chinese hourglass vessels, from 2013. For months, the machines have dredged the area to build Port City, the future lake city which China has controlled during 99 years in exchange for his credits.

China does not debate

Chinese ships have sucked 65 million tons of sand that they spat out in front of the capital, destroying corals and fish stocks. "By digging the ground, they created holes that were naturally filled by the sand of the coast carried by the currents"explains the scientist Hemantha Withanage, head of the NGO Environment and Justice. Fishermen in Pitipana did try to stop the work by filing lawsuits. In vain. "The boats left somewhere else for a while, and then they came back", says Aruna Roshanta.

The concerns of the fishermen weigh little against Port City, the new pearl of the "Silk Roads", these infrastructures deployed all over the place by China to reinforce its influence. The state-owned China Communication Construction Company (CCCC) wants to build, at a cost of 1.27 billion euros, a real estate and port complex over 2.7 km2 earned on the sea, with a marina, residential towers, hotels, a casino, a financial center and luxury signs. Bridges will connect this territory to the capital. Two-thirds of the artificial island will be controlled by China for 99 years.

On posters posted at the doors of the shipyard, Port City looks like mini Singapore Indian Ocean. In reality, the project is five years behind schedule. No building is out of the ground and foreign investors are not jostling, according to our information. "Who will live in these upscale buildings? Rich Indians? Chinese people ?asked Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, director of the Center for Alternative Policies. This energy-consuming project will have no positive impact on our country. "

In Sri Lanka, there are few critics of China's role, whose companies are building buildings, shopping malls, highways, power plants, dams and harbors. During the November presidential election, won by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, no one questioned the influence of the Asian giant. "People do not care if China, India, or the United States play the leading role in the country, as long as foreign money comes to us."says the political scientist Java Dawa Uyangoda.

The honeymoon between the former British colony and the second world power began in 2005, when the Rajapaksa clan came to power. At the time, already, the Chinese target this strategic island in front of India, located on the cargos route between Europe and the Far East. Beijing's offer of assistance is timely. In Colombo, there is a desperate search for arms, money and diplomatic support for the UN Security Council to end the endless war against LTTE Tamil separatists.

Chinese in the stronghold of the president

Four years later, the extremist rebellion is crushed in the blood. "After the war, the country urgently needed infrastructure and credit to develop, recalls a Western diplomat. And we must recognize that here again, China played a decisive role. " President Mahinda Rajapaksa also turns to the Chinese ally to develop his native region in the south of the island. Without bothering with tenders, he ordered a series of expensive and decried projects, including a deep-water port dug in Hambantota, a sleepy town.

Seen from China, the project is part of the "pearl necklace" strategy: build, buy or rent port facilities (pearls) for its navy along the main trade route to the Middle East. The Chinese bank Exim is putting the money, estimated at 326 million euros, at the disposal of the Sri Lankan authorities, who are undertaking in exchange to choose the China Harbor company to carry out the works.

Highly paid loans

Seven years after the opening of the harbor to the first freighters, the flag of China Harbor still floats on the port of Hambantota. Strangled by loans made to China, unable to repay, the Sri Lankan authorities have had to surrender their sovereignty over this unprofitable port. In exchange for the erasure of a slate of a billion dollars, Beijing has acquired the exclusive concession of the book and 60 km2 of land for 99 years, in July 2017. "The port has created 1,500 jobs but has not developed the local business"says an official under the seal of anonymity.

A port and white elephants

His gaze lingers on the silent platforms. The port hosts, on average, one ship per day, not enough to make the facilities profitable. Around, exchangers and four oversized lanes leave for a new, empty hospital, a business center whose first seminar is still awaiting, and an international airport built in the middle of a reserve. birds migratory birds that do not receive any flights. So many white elephants, symbols of the megalomaniacal excesses of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. "These projects fueled patterns of corruption and allowed the Chinese to intervene in the country's internal affairs."concludes analyst Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu.

A few kilometers from Hambantota port, the Chinese presence raises very real concerns. Farmers have recently discovered that their arid lands are within 60 km2 conceded to the Chinese to become an industrial zone. Surveyors visited the village six months ago armed with their measuring devices. "We gathered and they had to leave again", testifies Simana Avati in her shop in sheet metal and earth. The battle is not won so far. Here, the Rajapaksa clan's return to power is expected to revive the deportation process.

(tagsToTranslate) silk road (t) Sri Lanka (t) China (t) Oceania (t) credits (t) trapped (t) Chinese (t) Lanka

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