As Sri Lanka continues to struggle under massive debts, India and China plan strategic maneuvers on Lankan soil, a recent chain of events reveals.
The Airports Authority of India (AAI) is currently negotiating the terms of a joint venture with Sri Lanka’s Civil Aviation Department to operate the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA). Critics point out the foolishness of these negotiations, alluding to the fact that this $201 billion airport is characterized as the “world’s emptiest airport,” due to the absence of commercial airline operations. However, others applaud this as a smart move.
The Indian government has expressed deep security concerns over the strategic Chinese takeover of the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port (the Hambantota port), which overlooks some of the busiest shipping lanes throughout the Indian ocean. It is clear, India’s sudden interest in the MRIA (which located just 15 kilometers north of MRIA) stems from the need to be the gatekeepers of Chinese influence and power in that region.
Sri Lankan government has assured India that Hambantota port will never be allowed to use as a strategic naval base for China. However, Sri Lanka is not able to make demands due to large amounts of monetary funds it borrowed from the Chinese. Also, India may believe in keeping a closer eye on the Chinese activities and seem to be influencing Sri Lankan government to do the same. In accordance, the Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe’s announcement of Sri Lanka’s southern naval base’s relocation from Galle to Hambantota seem to correlate with this strategy.
It is safe to assume that sandwiched between Sri Lanka’s naval base and India controlled MRIA, Chinese may not be able to use Hambantota port as a strategic base to gain control of the surrounding area.