China’s Port To Nowhere

in Program

Sri Lanka’s Galle Face Green, an iconic beach park in the capital of Colombo, has turned into a construction battleground as countries all over the world vie for influence over this gateway to the Indian Ocean. The Hong Kong–based Shangri-La and the Indian ITC hotel groups are poised to open their latest chains right next to each other. The American Hyatt and European Mövenpick are moving in just a mile down the road. The Chinese state–owned China Communications Construction Co. has financed a luxury playground at Colombo Port City that sports hotels, luxury apartments, a golf course, shopping malls, and a Formula One track. This project would have overshadowed all other developments in the park, but the city’s newly elected government suspended construction in order to review it for its economic viability, environmental risks, and potential infringement upon national sovereignty. Whether or not the project resumes, Western and Indian observers fear that China, with its billions of dollars invested in the Sri Lankan economy and infrastructure, may have already displaced competitors. Along with the intoxicating allure of Chinese money, the worry is that Sri Lanka—like the other developing nations of the Indian Ocean rim that form China’s “string of pearls”—will eventually yield to Beijing.

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