The String of Pearls, Photo Credit: YouTube
Sri Lanka is a beautiful island nation that sits like a teardrop below India, in the Indian Ocean. It has recently announced that it is leasing (renting) its new port city of Hambantota, to China, in order to start to pay off huge loans that it had taken from the country.
China has been spending a lot of money (some reports say close to $1 trillion!) helping other countries in the area to build new roads and trade routes – to help Chinese goods get across to other places faster. These projects have also resulted in the Chinese building naval bases and military bases in these areas, in what is called a ‘string of pearls’ in the Indian Ocean, encircling India.
What is the String of Pearls? The network of Chinese bases between the Chinese mainland and Port Sudan, Africa.
India feels threatened by this growing Chinese presence.
So why did Sri Lanka basically give its port to China? Sri Lanka owed close to $8 billion to Chinese companies. These companies are developing ports and roads and buildings for Sri Lanka. One such port is Hambantota.
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the earlier President of Sri Lanka (current President is Maithripala Sirisena) had a vision of turning the quiet town of Hambantota into a bustling port, and bringing shipping and trading business to the area. Chinese companies agreed to build all this for him, and gave him loans to do so. However, shipping companies are not using this beautiful new port as there is a perfectly good port in Colombo that they like to use.
So there is no new business coming to Hambantota, and Sri Lanka cannot earn the money that it needs to in order to repay the Chinese companies.
Their solution? To rent Hambantota out to the Chinese on a 99-year lease, in a deal that some say is worth $1.1 billion.
India and the rest of the world are watching as they suspect that the Chinese will turn this into a naval or military base.
Why does this matter? Are India and China enemies? Not quite. It’s a difficult neighbourly relationship, where the two countries are watchful of each other. But take a look at the map above to see how China has a lot of potentially armed or strategic bases around the country. Every country wants to protect its borders and people from potential threats, and this positioning of Chinese bases around India makes India uncomfortable. So India is trying to buy the airport that is in Hambantota, so that they can also have a presence there!