Port of call— Sri Lanka


Hambantota is about to hit the big time thanks to Chinese money and dynastic might. But not everyone is set to benefit.


A sleepy rural backwater of 15,000 people, Hambantota, the main town in the southern Sri Lankan district of the same name, does not look like an international trading hub. Fishing boats trawl the compact harbour, with fishermen selling their hauls at a market on the shore, while shoppers amble between two small grocery stores in the town centre. The tallest building is the three-storey bus station overlooking the harbour. Little English is spoken, and apart from fishing, salt mining is the main industry.

But Hambantota is about to benefit from two…

Aftermath of war

The brutal manner in which the Sri Lankan military brought an end to the civil war with the LTTE in 2009 has led to accusations of war crimes. Diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks revealed that US officials in Colombo privately believed President Rajapaksa was responsible for the massacre of thousands of civilians, when the army fired on people who had gathered at what they believed to be safe points. A UN panel will advise secretary-general Ban Ki-moon on allegations of humanitarian law violations.

China’s Blue Water ambitions

While Beijing sees the South China Sea as key in its Blue Water ambitions it doesn’t have the same military prospects for the Indian Ocean. Not yet at least.

The String of Pearls theory, which maintains that the People’s Liberation Navy is gaining a stronger foothold by the day in locations across the Indian Ocean, is popular in India, but China insists it is building ports for commercial reasons, not military ones.

That’s not to say that these commercial ports couldn’t be used for military purposes in the future. “It’s inevitable that China will develop into a major naval power,” says James Hardy, Jane’s Defence Weekly’s Asia-Pacific editor. For now though, there’s not much to worry about – Hardy points out that China doesn’t even have a functioning aircraft carrier yet.


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