Tamil Information Centre
User Name:   
Password:   
  Remember Me  
Sign up  |  Forget password
Home   
Search
    Contact us
Why India is buying the world’s emptiest airport
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Monday)

Geopolitical rivalry between big powers sometimes yields odd results. The latest development in growing strategic competition across the Indian Ocean region is India's purchase of what has become known as the 'world's emptiest international airport' in Sri Lanka, maybe just to keep it empty.

Hambantota dreaming

The small fishing town of Hambantota, near the southern tip of Sri Lanka, has long been Exhibit A for those who worry about the strategic impact of China's Belt and Road Initiative. Hambantota burst into international consciousness around a decade ago when Chinese companies were contracted to build a big new port, an international airport and, of course, an international cricket stadium – all connected by Chinese-built multi-lane freeways.

It was all part of a plan by Sri Lanka's then president Mahinda Rajapaksa to turn his own sleepy constituency into a new global shipping hub. After international investors and aid agencies baulked at the business case, Rajapaksa went to China to finance and build the projects. Although the commercial terms are opaque, the projects have probably cost more than US$1.5 billion in all, much of it in relatively high interest loans.

According to its backers, the new port's location next to the busiest sea lanes across the northern Indian Ocean makes it a natural hub for transhipment and logistics. It is part of Sri Lanka's ambitious plans to turn itself into an all-purpose Indian Ocean hub that might one day come to rival Singapore.

But security analysts argued that Hambantota might also be a good place for a Chinese naval base, as part of a Chinese 'String of Pearls' across the Indian Ocean. It was, according to several Indian analysts, part of a grand Chinese plan to surround India in the Indian Ocean.

A Sri Lankan White Elephant

Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, the foreign bean counters were right. The whole project has turned out to be a white elephant. International shipping companies had no interest in using Hambantota, when there was an excellent port at nearby Colombo. Only a handful of ships visit the port, mostly docking there at the insistence of embarrassed Sri Lankan agencies.

The shiny new Rajapaksa International Airport also sits virtually unused, with a full complement of employees and only one international flight a week. The empty terminal and its bored-looking workers make a great photo opportunity for journalists. Some of the newly-built hangars are even rented out to locals to store rice.

When the bills became due, the government couldn't repay them. Sri Lanka, now minus Mahinda Rajapaksa, was forced to go to its Chinese backers cap in hand – essentially to hand over ownership of the port in a debt-for-equity swap. Although Sri Lanka claims to have retained control over management of the port, the details are suspiciously murky. China now has plans to build a big Special Economic Zone around Hambantota. This may eventually drive some demand for shipping, but it is hard to see it ever becoming the global shipping hub it was once touted to be.

For some, Hambantota is a perfect example of what can happen when an authoritarian leader, not subject to usual democratic balances, gets into bed with Chinese companies that may well have ulterior motives. The project is held up as proof that the Belt and Road often involves foisting uneconomic projects on developing countries with loans that can never be repaid. According to critics, these projects will only damage long term economic development and make many countries politically indebted to Beijing.

Similar claims are being made about the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor now being constructed in Pakistan at a cost of somewhere like US$40-100 billion, with some fearing it will create a 'debt trap' for Pakistan.

Checkmating the Chinese navy

The Chinese takeover of Hambantota port only increases New Delhi's worries that it will become an Indian Ocean hub for the Chinese navy. But, in fact, Hambantota has never been feasible as a full blown Chinese naval base. Its proximity to India would make it highly vulnerable to air attack in the event of conflict between the two countries. But short of war, Hambantota would make a fine logistics point for an expanded Chinese naval presence. Although Colombo has repeatedly claimed that no Chinese naval facility will be permitted in Sri Lanka, New Delhi worries that China's influence will one day reach a point where the Sri Lankan government simply cannot say no.

This is where the world's emptiest airport comes in. India is proposing to spend around US$300 million to buy out Sri Lanka's debt to China in return for a 40-year lease over Hambantota airport. But India's future plans for the airport are hazy. Maybe a flight school? A new destination for Indian weddings? There seems little chance that it will turn a profit.

That is not the point of the deal. A key element in any overseas naval base, and even a logistics facility, is easy access by air for people and supplies. A naval base also requires maritime air surveillance capabilities. Control over Hambantota airport will give India considerable control over how the port is used. It is difficult to conceive of the Chinese navy developing a significant facility at Hambantota without also controlling the airport. In short, India is spending US$300 million buying an airport to block a Chinese naval base.

The long and twisted saga of Hambantota is emblematic of growing strategic competition in the Indian Ocean region, much of it focussed on ownership and access to infrastructure. In coming years, we are likely to see a lot more jostling between India, China and others in the Indian Ocean over control of ports, airports and other pieces of critical infrastructure – and perhaps increasingly for control over governments.

Source: The Interpreter

Share on Facebook


 Latest 25 News/ பிந்திய 25 செய்திகள்:
Tamil prisoners’ CA appeal to be supported on 22 Feb.
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Wednesday)
Appeal against the acquittal of suspects in TNA MP's murder to be heard on February 16
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Tuesday)
Solution must be acceptable to Tamils Separate State is not a reasonable request - Former Army Commander, General Gerry De Silva RWP, VSV, USP
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Tuesday)
President's letter to Naseby: PHU says govt. kept it a secret
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Tuesday)
Sri Lanka says will take years to heal post war wounds
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Tuesday)
From Balfour to Trump... a changing game plan in the Middle East
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Monday)
Sri Lanka’s Present Predicament: Where do we go from here?
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Monday)
Sad state of Human Rights situation
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Monday)
Aging to impact Sri Lanka productivity growth
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Monday)
PC Amendment Act Bathiudeen unhappy
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Monday)
No objections to Sriyani Wijewickrama crossing over – Gammanpila
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Monday)
China donates another 1,000 tons of rice to Sri Lankan drought victims
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Monday)
When UN peacekeepers commit atrocities, someone has to act
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Sunday)
Poor improvement in HR record Hardly any change from previous two years
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Sunday)
Supply of coconuts to Army Treasury faces huge loss
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Sunday)
PTA detainees Jeyanthan’s Story Waiting to be either charged or released
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Sunday)
Bhikkhunis in SL face challenges due to official non recognition by Buddhist Affairs Dept.
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Sunday)
Corruption attacks foundations of democracy
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Friday)
Sri Lanka gifts a plot of land for a new Chancery Building for the State of Palestine
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Friday)
China leads in Sri Lanka’s FDI in 2017
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Friday)
20-30 Children become orphans daily – WP Probation Dept
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Friday)
ITAK expresses confidence in TNA unity Reaches consensus with TELO on LG polls seats
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Friday)
Army chief seeks support for reconciliation process
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Friday)
Abduction of youths Ex-Navy spokesman’s Bail application postponed
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Friday)
How the UK’s aid budget is funding security forces and working against human rights
Published Date: 04/12/2017 (Friday)
Donate
Support our work to bring rights to life in any way big or small
 Amount:

Donate using PayPal

Select dates to view
past and future events
<<<Dec - 2017>>>
SunMonTueWedThuFriSat
     
1
2
345678
9
10
1112131415
16
17181920212223
24252627282930
31      
 Stand up for Rights and Justice
Tamil men accuse continuing torture in Sri Lanka Take a stand against torture and urge UN Human Rights commission for human rights to investigate
Read more...
Take Action
Urgent: They’re beheading children
Repeal Laws that Entrench Discrimination and Perpetuate Violence
UK: Stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia
Latest Publication
Armament for Repression: Militarisation of Sri Lanka Conference Report:

Armament for Repression: Militarisation of Sri Lanka

Read more...

Thiruvalluvar
About us
Site Help
Getting in touch
Other
Facebook Youtube twitter
Sitemap  |  Privacy Policy  |  Terms and Conditions
Copyright © 2017 ticonline.org, All rights reserved.