India is in the advanced stages of negotiations with Sri Lanka to run an airport on the southern part of the island, which has a huge Chinese presence owing to China’s Belt and Road initiative.
Civil Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala explained the country had been looking for alternate investors in the Hambantota area, where China has constructed a seaport and is in discussions to establish an investment zone and a refinery.
“It was during this time India came up with a proposal,” Siripala said. “They were ready for a joint venture with the Airport and Aviation Services, ” he said, pointing to the state-run company that operates Sri Lanka’s main airport in the capital Colombo and another in the south, in Mattala.
The town of Hambantota is near one of the world’s most bustling shipping lanes and is an integral part of the Belt and Road initiative, geared at developing trade and transport connections across Asia and all the way to Europe.
China operates the seaport with a 99-year lease and had plans to expand its presence in the area with the refinery, which if completed, would be Sri Lanka’s largest, and an investment zone comprised of 6,000 hectares.
Beijing’s projects, supported by resources given by the Chinese government and initiated by a previous Sri Lankan government, have been opposed in Sri Lanka with residents facing eviction expressing their displeasure.
Others meanwhile, have criticized the Sri Lankan government for these projects which could plunge the country into long-term indebtedness.