Chinese rivals Japan and India in talks to expand Sri Lanka’s main port

The governments of Japan and India are discussing a partnership with Sri Lanka to expand its busy Port of Colombo, a move that would challenge China’s dominance over the island nation’s infrastructure development.

Talks among the three parties have explored jointly developing the port, which handles 90% of Sri Lanka’s seaborne goods and is southwest Asia’s busiest.

The idea is to increase its 6.2 million container capacity and dredge its approaches to accommodate bigger ships.
A memorandum of understanding to that effect is expected in the summer, with an aim of starting work in March 2020, the Nikkei Asian Review reports. 

A Sri Lankan source told the Bloomberg news agency that Sri Lanka would control 51% of the project, with India and Japan sharing the other 49%.

The development could be a victory for India and Japan in their rivalry with China for influence in the region.

China has long dominated infrastructure development in Sri Lanka, which has caused political friction in recent years.

In 2015 Sri Lanka’s new government suspended a Chinese-backed $1.5bn deal to build a brand new port city offshore Colombo over concerns about a Chinese company controlling land in a high-security zone.

After a flurry of diplomacy, and a demand for compensation by the Chinese company involved, the scheme resumed. 

China’s dealings with Sri Lanka have been criticised as "debt-trap diplomacy" since it took over the southern port of Hambantota on a 99-year lease after the Sri Lanka government struggled to repay a $1.3bn loan for its construction.

Image: Queueing at the Port of Colombo (JG Morard/CC BY 2.0)

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