India has emerged as a front runner to take over Sri Lanka’s Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport. According to the proposal, an Indian company has offered to take over 70% share for an investment of $205 million for 40 years. The proposal was approved by Sri Lanka’s Civil Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva and has sent it to the country’s cabinet for review. Even though Sri Lanka has received eight proposals from various other parties, including China, the interesting aspect is that the Indian plan is reportedly being reviewed separately.
The Mattala Airport has been struggling. It’s located in a remote area of an under-developed part of the country and has found it hard to attract both passengers and airlines. Only one or two flights per day stop there and the airport has served just 21,000 passengers in 2014 which is a mere seven passengers per place. As a result of this, the MRIA has been dubbed the ‘world’s emptiest international airport’.
The decrepit situation of the airport has caused the Sri Lankan government to suffer losses of $112.9 million by the end of last year. It is crystal clear to the government that the current situation of the airport won’t allow it to pay back the$190 million of loans that the Exim Bank of China provided to build the airport.
Just recently, China took over the Hambantota deep sea port for 99 years. This port and the MRIA are located within an hour’s drive from each other. Seen from this perspective, this proposal by India could be a counter to China’s growing presence in the region.
India, despite being a much smaller economy than China, is definitely standing up to China’s tactics to safeguard its strategic and geopolitical interests in the region. The world has been aware of China’s expansionist strategy for years now, yet no major power stood up against them. India is doing so, both on the border and on the geopolitical front.