Are you in the government? Are you in the Rajapaksa family? If not, then the Chinese government is probably no great friend to you.
The Chinese government’s relationship is state to state, not person to person. It is important to remember this, and doubly important to remember that you, unlike Louis XIV or Mahinda VI, are not the state.
The Chinese are building ports, infrastructure and public spaces. Remember who did that last time? It was the British. The British colonial regime built roads, railways, infrastructure and the artificial port of Colombo. They imported docile labourers from India and paid off Sri Lankan elites to serve the regime. They also introduced legislation to allow for the outright sale of land.
What’s happening today? The Chinese are loaning money for road and rail projects in the north. They’re also giving loans for power and infrastructure and they built the artificial port of Hambantota. They import cheap Chinese labor, or deport their own prisoners as forced labor. In the process, they have bought off the Rajapaksa family with arms and funds. That family is now introducing legislation to allow foreigners to buy land outright and has already sold land near the Galle Face Green to a former arms supplier.
There is no doubt that the British pillaged the country and poisoned race relations. The price for casting off that colonial hangover, however, seems to be another stiff drink from the same wretched quaff.
That colonialism consisted of Sri Lankas elite’s selling off the country’s resources to make the British Empire colossally wealthy and secure. Chinese colonialism consists of the Rajapaksa family selling off Sri Lanka’s resources with the added innovation of doing most of it through loans, thus making Sri Lankan taxpayers foot the bill for their own subjugation.
Think about it. Is the Chinese government a friend of Sri Lanka, or a friend of the family? What benefits Sri Lankans directly is human-to-human contact, be it trade, tourism or immigration, on those counts, how does China stack up.
Sri Lanka’s main export partners are the US, Europe and India. Around 1% of an estimated $7 billion USD in exports are to China. China is our second biggest import partner, so they make money off of us. Our people don’t really make money off of them.
Most of Sri Lanka’s tourist arrivals come from India and Europe. Around 2% of an estimated 48,000 tourists in May 2011 were from China. That’s 1,337 people.
Most Sri Lankans working abroad go to the Middle East. According to 2008 data from statistics.gov, one (1) person migrated to China that year.
Most Sri Lankans studying abroad go to Australia, UK, the US or Canada. Up to 15-20,000 Sri Lankans study abroad. In 2008, by Australian estimates, 24% of Sri Lankan students went there. Chinese numbers are unclear. Each year the Chinese government offers 104 scholarships, but it is not yet a major education destination.
So, by all the counts that matter to the Sri Lankan people, China is not our number one friend or partner. But they are number one to the ruling family.
Thus, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s cosy relationship with the Chinese serves his interests much more than the nation’s. He’s turning against the nations that provide business for Sri Lankans, business that puts food on the table. He’s turning against the nations that come and visit us, providing livelihoods for thousands and human connection for more. He’s also turning against the places where ministers and ordinary people try to get visas to study or work.
Make no mistake, Mahinda Rajapaksa is selling out the country to the Chinese to enrich himself and his family. The infrastructure is needed, but the loans and debt are not. And the Sri Lankan people would be wise to question the intentions of the people giving us ‘free money’. From Africa to Asia, the Chinese have shown no compunction about destroying foreign environments or lives to further their own interests. They simply pay off elites and take what they need. And they don’t really need you.
So, welcome to your new colonial masters, and enjoy the new infrastructure. The British built our Town Hall. Now the Chinese have given us a Performing Arts Center a few blocks away.
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