“Sri Lanka is in talks with India to develop Trincomalee harbor”. Earlier this week, Sri Lanka’s minister for regional development, Sarath Fonseka, suggested this at a conference in New Delhi. This is considered as a move to balance the relationship with China and India. However, according to a report in the Sri Lankan newspaper Sunday Leader on January 22, news from the Indian official sources says that India is not interested in such balancing deals.
Trincomalee port is the deepest natural harbor in South Asia and boasts ten times the amount of water and land reserves as Colombo port. At present, the port is only used for the shipment of local commodities, like flour and cement, as well as some random bulk cargo. Sri Lanka’s goal is to develop this place into a major deep-sea port and a 175 square kilometer luxury tourism zone, but the country is currently in a severe debt crisis.
US news website Forbes reported on January 21 that Sri Lanka has been pursuing potential international investors, and hoped that this would be India. Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe vouched for the veracity of the remarks of Fonseka on the sidelines of Davos a few days ago. Forbes News Network commented that this move was intended to be a geopolitical counterbalance. India does not like the Hambantota port and the port city developed by China in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is also currently attempting to stem the momentum of becoming a Chinese outpost. However, “India Tells Sri Lanka: You Can Take Your Port And Shove It”.
Sunday Leader quoted Indian sources as saying that India is not at all interested in such balancing deals and that it is not interested in Trincomalee port as it is not going to yield an income for a long time. India had earlier rejected an invitation to build the Hambantota port for the same reason. Forbes news says that the offer of Trincomalee port was Sri Lanka’s outspoken proposal to use India for offsetting China’s political and economic influence. In fact, India was never overtly excluded from any Chinese-led development project in Sri Lanka, and they have been invited to join Colombo Financial City, the Hambantota port and the Hambantota industrial zone.
Indian sources said India’s only interest is in seeing that any foreign presence in Sri Lanka is not a security threat to India, reported the Sunday Leader. Alarm bells rang in New Delhi when a Chinese nuclear submarine docked in Colombo harbor without letting India know in advance. “India is not against Chinese development projects in Sri Lanka, so long as they are not a security threat to India”.
In fact, India is also interested in large-scale investments in Sri Lanka. Forbes News says that just a few months ago India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that they would be pumping $2 billion into Sri Lankan infrastructure development. But India still does not want step fully into this area, because India has its own infrastructure challenges at home, they have a dire need to modernize their own ports, and investing in Sri Lanka’s port at Trincomalee is not on their priority list.