May 11 (SCMP) An airport without planes, a revolving restaurant with no diners, a debt-laden seaport – Sri Lanka’s economic crisis has been exacerbated by Chinese-funded projects that stand as neglected monuments to government extravagance.
The South Asian island nation borrowed heavily to plug years of budget shortfalls and trade deficits, but squandered huge sums on ill-considered infrastructure projects that have further drained public finances.
It is now in the grip of its worst financial crisis since independence from Britain in 1948, with months of blackouts and acute shortages of food and fuel plaguing its 22 million people.
After weeks of largely peaceful protests demanding the government resign over its economic mismanagement, things turned violent on Monday after pro-government supporters clashed with demonstrators, leaving at least eight people dead and more than 225 wounded.
Many of the white-elephant projects that helped fuel the crisis now gather dust in Hambantota district, home of the powerful Rajapaksa clan, which used its political clout and billions in Chinese loans in a failed effort to turn the rural outpost into a major economic hub.
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa – who commissioned many of the projects – announced his resignation on Monday, the same day the anti-government protests turned violent.
But his younger brother Gotabaya remains president.
The centrepiece of the infrastructure drive was a deep seaport on the world’s busiest east-west shipping lane, which was meant to spur industrial activity.