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The signing ceremony for the EPC project of 130t/d flat glass production line between CTIEC and JMONIT that was held in Shanghai on March 27, 2017, was another example of China’s determination to ensure that its Silk Road and Belt Road policies remain on course.

Mr. Sun Jian’an, executive vice president of CTIEC, on behalf of CTIEC, was authorized by Peng Shou, board chairman and president of CTIEC, to sign the project contract with Mr. Juan Mbela Obama, president of JMONIT from Equatorial Guinea. For Equatorial Guinea and its neighbouring countries, the project will effectively address issues on their current dependence on flat glass import, and will optimize its industrial structure as well, contributing to its national economic development.

However, not everyone views the continued expansion as positively. In Sri Lanka, A highway built by China threads almost all the way from Colombo to the south coast. The thoroughfare has yet to reach Hambantota, whose main road hugs the Indian Ocean. But it’s here where Chinese ambitions to develop a maritime Silk Road have run up against Sri Lanka’s tangled politics and identity, stirring distrust and creating an unlikely symbol of Beijing’s global leverage. 

Indeed, violent protests broke out in January after the government announced a deal with China to develop the port and build a massive industrial zone. Officials agreed to lease 80% of Hambantota harbor to state-controlled China Merchants Port Holdings for 99 years. Officials also plan to set up a 15,000-acre zone for factories.

“No negative force can stop the cooperation between China and Sri Lanka,” Chinese Ambassador Yi Xianliang said at the zone’s opening ceremony, “if everything goes well,” Yi said, China would invest $5 billion in three to five years and create 100,000 jobs.

Yet details are murky and suspicions run deep. Environmentalists worry about elephant habitats; locals fear losing their homes to development. And the political party that once embraced Chinese money is now fighting the deal as too expansive for the former British colony.

“It’s been 69 years since we got our freedom, we don’t want to be under any other country,” said D.V. Chanaka, a Parliament member for the district who helped organize the protests. “People here fear it will lead to Chinese colonization.”  

The problem is that Sri Lanka owes China, its largest lender and trading partner, more than $8 billion. 

Hambantota port is particularly significant because it lies along one of the world’s busiest trade routes, connecting Asia with Europe. This spot, about 100 miles southeast of Colombo, plays a key part in China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative that seeks to revive ancient trade routes and spread influence.

“The Indian Ocean is going to be one of the most strategically contested in the future, with a rising India and a rising China making inroads into Africa and the Middle East,” said Kadira Pethiyagoda, visiting fellow in Asia-Middle East relations at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center. “Sri Lanka is right in the center of that.”

For all China’s apparent largesse and investment, however, is there an undercurrent of mounting debt that will ultimately put a gun to the head of those nations that have opened their doors to this foreign money. May we live in interesting times indeed…

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