India to Help Develop Colombo, Trincomalee Ports

India will help develop both Colombo and Trincomalee ports in Sri Lanka, foreign secretary S Jaishankar said, days after Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe named India as a top contender for developing the strategically located Trincomalee harbour in eastern part of the island nation.

The development potentially extends India's outreach in the Indian Ocean, where China is pursuing an expansionist policy. India is also helping build road and rail projects in Sri Lanka, Jaishankar said while addressing at a workshop titled `Connecting the Bay of Bengal India, Japan, and Regional Cooperation', organised by the India chapter of global think tank Carnegie India.

Wickremesinghe had said while participating in the 45th anniversary celebrations of the Kandy Sinhalese Traders' Association in Kandy earlier this week that discussions were on with both India and Singapore for developing the Trincomalee harbour. Japan will also play a role in building the Trincomalee port, said people aware of the matter.

Unlike the previous Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, the current regime in Colombo since 2015 has sought to balance its policy between India and China, giving India a stake in Hambantota airport, Colombo port project and a key expressway, besides preventing Chinese submarines in Sri Lankan waters in the backdrop of loans from Beijing that have pushed Sri Lanka into debt trap. India, in collaboration with Japan, has sought to develop infrastructure and connectivity projects in the Bay of Bengal region including Andaman Islands amid China's outreach to South Asia through One Belt One Road initiative. Sri Lanka had indicated a few months ago that it would hand over to India running of the Chinese-built Hambantota airport near the deep-sea port.

Handing over the loss-making Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota to India would enable Sri Lanka to pay back dues to China's EXIM Bank, which had provided loans to build the airport. There are reports that India could invest $205 million in MRIA for a 70% share for 40 years. MRIA, located 250 km south from Colombo, was built at a cost of $209 million largely with Chinese assistance ($190 million). By the end of 2016 MRIA suffered a loss of nearly $113 million, according to Sri Lankan government.

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