Written by Staff Writer
26 Jun, 2018 | 9:29 pm
Colombo (News1st) – The New York Times has made some startling revelations about Sri Lanka, campaign finances and China’s stranglehold on Sri Lanka.
A New York Times report titled ‘How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port’, says the transfer of the Hambantota Port, a project initiated and completed by the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, to the Chinese for 99 years, is a vivid example of “China’s ambitious use of loans and aid to gain influence around the world — and of its willingness to play hardball to collect.”
The report says “Months of interviews with Sri Lankan, Indian, Chinese and Western officials and analysis of documents and agreements stemming from the port project present a stark illustration of how China and the companies under its control ensured their interests in a small country hungry for financing.”
The New York Times adds that “Indian officials, in particular, fear that Sri Lanka is struggling so much that the Chinese government may be able to dangle debt relief in exchange for its military’s use of assets like the Hambantota port.”
The first major loan Sri Lanka took for the project ($307mn) came from the Chinese government’s Exim bank but to obtain the loan, Sri Lanka was required to accept Beijing’s preferred company, China Harbor, as the port’s builder. The report says this “is a typical demand of China for its projects around the world, rather than allowing an open bidding process.”
While highlighting the close relationship President Mahinda Rajapaksa had with China, the New York Times says large payments flowed towards the President’s circle as the 2015 Presidential Election drew closer. The report says “at least $7.6 million was dispensed from China Harbor’s account at Standard Chartered Bank to affiliates of Rajapaksa’s campaign.”
The report adds that with 10 days to go before polls opened, around $3.7 million was distributed in cheques: $678,000 to print campaign T-shirts and other promotional material and $297,000 to buy supporters gifts, including women’s saris. The article claims that another $38,000 was paid to a popular Buddhist monk who was supporting Rajapaksa’s electoral bid, while two cheques totaling $1.7 million were delivered by volunteers to Temple Trees, the official residence of then President Rajapaksa.
Most of the payments were from a subaccount controlled by China Harbor, named “HPDP Phase 2,” shorthand for Hambantota Port Development Project.
The New York Times says “the handover of Hambantota to the Chinese has kept alive concerns about possible military use — particularly as China has continued to militarize island holdings around the South China Sea despite earlier pledges not to.”
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