China’s role suspected, as Sri Lanka reviews role of India, Japan in Colombo Port project

Last Updated : 04 July 2020, 18:37 IST

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As Sri Lanka is set to relook its pact with India and Japan to develop and run the East Container Terminal of the Colombo Port, New Delhi suspects that China nudged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government to review the 2019 tripartite deal.

Rajapaksa constituted a committee comprising five senior officials to review the agreement Sri Lanka inked with India and Japan in May 2019 for development of the deep-sea container terminal. The move came after the workers of the Colombo Port staged a stir and threatened to go on an indefinite strike if the government allowed any foreign country to develop the Eastern Container Terminal (ECT).

The government headed by Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa also accepted the demand of the agitating workers to install in the ECT the three gantry cranes, which the Sri Lanka Port Authority had earlier imported from China for the adjacent Jaya Container Terminal.

New Delhi suspects that the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Colombo had orchestrated the stir by the workers so that the Sri Lankan Government could initiate the review of its 2019 tripartite agreement with India and Japan for developing the port. China already holds the majority share in the adjacent Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT).

Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lankan Prime Minister, was quoted by the island nation’s media stating that no final decision had been taken to allow India and Japan to develop and run the ECT.

A source said that New Delhi would still expect Sri Lanka to go by the 2019 agreement and initiate talks with India and Japan to finalize the shareholding pattern. He pointed out that the agreement provided that the Sri Lanka Port Authority would hold the majority of the shares in the ECT – unlike the CICT, where the controlling stake is held by China. “Security and development of Sri Lanka and India are inseparable,” the source told the DH in New Delhi.

Sri Lanka is one of the Indian Ocean nations where China is trying to outsmart India to spread its geo-strategic influence. The tiny island nation had to lease out the Hambantota Port to China for 99 years after its construction by a company based in the communist country resulted in a huge debt burden for it.

The second of Mahinda Rajapaksa's two consecutive terms (2005-2015) in the office of Sri Lankan President had seen China expanding its footprints in the Indian Ocean island nation, causing much unease to India. He had ignored the security interests of India and allowed China to develop strategic assets, like Hambantota Port, in the island. He had also allowed two nuclear submarines of the People Liberation Army Navy of China to dock at the Colombo Port, raising hackles in New Delhi.

Published 04 July 2020, 15:25 IST

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