Sri Lanka offers strategic deep-sea port to India, Japan

Colombo, Mar 02 (AFP):
Sri Lanka will offer a strategically located deep-sea port to India and Japan, an official said Tuesday, as the island seeks to balance traditional ties against China’s rising regional influence.
The government last month abruptly pulled out of an agreement with Delhi and Tokyo to jointly develop the partially built East Container Terminal, located next to a $500-million Chinese-run container jetty within the capital Colombo’s sprawling port. But Colombo reversed course Tuesday, offering the West Container Terminal (WCT), which is yet to be built and located on the other side of the Chinese-run jetty known as the Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT).
“The discussions to develop the WCT will be only with India and Japan,” government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters in the capital.
Rambukwella said the cabinet decided to allow India and Japan to have an 85 percent stake in the West Container Terminal — the same terms China was granted when building the CICT. It’s unclear how Tokyo and Delhi will divide their majority stake in the port. The government said the Indian High Commission in Colombo has “approved” Sri Lanka’s latest offer.
There was no immediate response from India’s foreign ministry in New Delhi, and a government spokesman said Japan has yet to respond to the new proposal.
Colombo is located in the Indian Ocean between the major hubs of Dubai and Singapore, meaning control of its ports is highly sought after.
Two Chinese submarines berthed at the CICT — which started operations in 2013 — in 2014, sparking concerns in India which considers neighbour Sri Lanka to be within its sphere of influence. Since then, Sri Lanka has refused permission for further submarine calls.
India and the United States have also expressed concerns that a Chinese foothold at Hambantota could give Beijing a military advantage in the Indian Ocean.

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