mead berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn bayles
Asia's Game of Thrones
China Adds Another Pearl to Its Growing String

China is poised to acquire an 80% stake in a strategically located port on Sri Lanka’s southern coast, according to The Wall Street Journal

Under the deal, a copy of which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, China Merchants Port Holdings Co. would pay about $1.1 billion for its share of the port and adjoining land in Hambantota district. 

Sri Lanka’s ports authority would own 20%. Officials said they hoped to complete the arrangement by early January.

Washington could react warily, depending on the details. The port, in Hambantota, lies along an important trade route linking the Middle East and Asia. And China’s navy has been stepping up its operations in the Indian Ocean as it seeks to project power westward.

“We will watch carefully,” a senior U.S. official said. “These things do have long-term implications.”

The slow and steady progress of China’s drive to control its connections with the rest of the world continues. One consequence will be to sharpen the rivalry between India and China. New Delhi has long been warily eyeing Beijing’s attempts to woo Sri Lanka with extensive investment and high-ticket military contracts, and has been unnerved by the frequent presence of Chinese submarines in Sri Lanka’s ports. The Chinese acquisition of the Hambantota port will surely exacerbate concerns that China is encroaching on India’s sphere of influence. Beijing’s improving relations with Colombo could also heighten worries in Tokyo and Hanoi about the balance of power in Asia.

China has been on a winning streak lately, scoring strategic victories in the Philippines, Malaysia, and now Sri Lanka, but Beijing’s rivals are unlikely to take such developments in stride. The Trump administration will have its work cut out for it if it seeks to challenge China without provoking a series of crises.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Kevin

    I still think China is repeating the mistakes of Wilhelmine Germany, a continual power pursuing a maritime policy for glory and its “place in the sun” at the cost of antagonizing countries who otherwise would have no clashing interests with it.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Yes, but the ultimate reason for the battle fleet wasn’t to support a network of colonies, but rather to ensure that the British plan of blockading Germany (which had worked so well against France a century before, and was clearly in the cards when war broke out again) wouldn’t be effective. Sadly, Tirpitz never really understood this, as he became obsessed with ‘Risk Theory’ without understanding why the British fleet mattered in the first place.

      Sorry about getting into the weeds, this is a subject of great fascination to me….

      • Kevin

        I don’t think it works that way.
        One imperial commitment leads to the next, as you always need another one to protect the first, and so on ad infinitum. (This works so long as the imperial possssions actually generate a return for the imperial power, but Germany’s and now China’s are just additional expenses.)
        These are never enough to break a blockade, but more than enough to divert resources and attention to imperial adventures, and hostages to fortune in the event of hostilities. Ultimately the fleets and far flung bases are just a vanity. (For China, a shorter ranged invasion force for seizing Taiwan or other nearby islands is a completely different matter, they could plausibly help it project power in disputes in East Asia. But tweaking India’s nose in the Indian Ocean is gratuitous, just gaining another enemy balancing against them for no useful gain.)

        • f1b0nacc1

          Your argument works very well in some cases (the Japanese involvement in China is a superlative example….check out “Soldiers of the Sun” for a fascinating discussion of it), but the idea that “there are never enough to break a blockade” isn’t the point. Of course the British could always build enough ships to impose a blockade on the Germans (geography dictated that far more than industrial output), but those resources had to come from somewhere, and the German fleet almost accomplished its goals in that sense. Had they not been unable/unwilling to deploy their fleet in 1917 (after Jutland), the Germans admirals might very well have been able achieve their goals. The problem was one of morale and will, not capabilities. Much more to the point, what ‘imperial adventures’ did the Kaiser engage in, aside from some ()very minor) twiddling about in East Africa and Morocco, all of it prior to 1905, when the real naval build up began?

          As for the Chinese, I wonder about them. The bases will serve them well if they are in a regional fight (India is more likely a target than Taiwan, if you ask me – the risks of uncontrolled escalation with Taiwan are far too great for the risk-averse leadership in China), and will give them leverage in a pre-war environment that might make actual combat unnecessary. After all, this is the whole point of their SCS deployments.

  • ——————————

    Unfortunately the West’s insatiable appetite for cheaper and cheaper products so they can have more and more ‘stuff’, has lined the coffers of China.

    As we sow, so shall we reap….

  • Interesting that the PRC complains loudly of the U.S. trying to contain it while it is doing likewise to its neighboring powers in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea…

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service