The Sri Lankan President has recently voiced his agreement over reviewing a joint-venture- port agreement with India reported to having an estimated worth of $500 to $700 million.
The move is perceived as a strategic response to distance itself from ‘QUAD’ Nations. Since there is a shift in power dynamic across Asia, and Colombo’s response is likely to comply with china’s growing geopolitical influence against the QUAD” nations.
“We heard that there is a lot of pressure from India over this project. But we are not a province of India, we are a sovereign nation and we do not need to dance to their tunes,” said Shyamal Sumanarathna, secretary of the Ports, Commerce Industries, and Progressive Workers Union.
Development of East Container Terminal (ECT) was agreed to come into effect with India and china as stakeholders, where 51% stake was to remain with Sri Lanka. The deal was sealed under the memorandum of understanding (MOU) by the previous government.
The reaction in Sri Lanka
The Trade Union at the Sri Lanka port authority is afraid of losing the ownership rights to India and demand a guarantee that the concerns won’t turn into a reality to which the prime minister assured that there is no settlement of the “final agreement” yet between the two parties.
A five-member committee is reported to review the concerns in 45 days and decide that the project works for the benefit of Sri Lanka without it having to compromise on the sovereignty.
Speaking of the inclination of Sri Lanka towards China; China has categorically bailed out the country on various fronts especially since the outbreak of COVID-19. China lends out $1.5 billion to construct a port in Hambantota, However, the port was later leased to China for 99 years in exchange for $1.1 billion.
What to believe?
On one side China is financing the Sri Lanka economy in the name of $500 million foreign “aid package” and on the other hand, the government is requesting a postponement of debt to various countries including India amid the pandemic.
Rohan Masakorala, a maritime shipping expert and CEO of the Shippers Academy Colombo called out the trade union for portraying nationalistic sentiments, driven by politically motivated views.
Harin Fernando, a Member of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, accused the current administration of turning Sri Lanka into a “banana republic” under Chinese rule. He further added that the administration is hijacked given that China has established a monopoly over the development projects.