COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The Chinese funded overseas projects hugely benefited the political supporters of the incumbent president or prime ministers of those countries, according to reports, including Sri Lanka that receives the funds for its major infrastructure facilities.
In the run-up to the elections, constituencies of key leaders often saw sharp increases in Chinese government-backed funding, which triggered a widespread concern over transparency of these projects.
‘Banking on Beijing’, book published by Cambridge University Press, found that in those countries that receive Chinese financial support, funding for the political leader’s home province increased by 52% during the years when the leader was in power, as The Economic Times reported.
In Sri Lanka, during his tenure as president from 2005-2015, Mahinda Rajapaksa tried to transform the remote Hambantota district (home to only 12,000 residents) into a second capital through Chinese-backed infrastructure building, including a huge international airport.
But the project was unviable as the airport hardly received any traffic. The Hambantota Port built by the Chinese serves Beijing’s strategic purpose in the Indian Ocean Region much to India’s discomfort.
“An empty port, an empty airport, and an empty vast convention centre would not generate the benefits that Hambantota needs, and may, if constructed, be considered the president’s folly,” a cable from the US embassy in Colombo noted in 2017.
In June 2021, the China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC) won a new development project for a 17-km elevated highway in Colombo, Sri Lanka, which lead to fears that the country may soon become a Chinese Colony.
The CHEC is a subsidiary of state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) and has led several infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka, including Hambantota Port and Mattala International Airport.
China–Sri Lanka relations are the bilateral relations between the People’s Republic of China and Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. Historical and cultural ties between the two countries extend back hundreds of years.
Meanwhile, in the West African state of Sierra Leone, when Ernest Bai Koroma became the president in 2007, his home district, Bombali, was one of the country’s four most populous districts but also one of the poorest.
His rise to political stardom quickly changed the situation for the district due to Chinese funds, according to the new book, as The Economic Times worte. By the end of Koroma’s second term, the district’s capital, Makeni, was one of the few places with 24-hour electricity.