- India has agreed to form a joint venture with Sri Lanka to operate the country’s loss-making Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota.
- The Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport is dubbed the world’s emptiest airport due to a lack of flights
- India would revive this dying airport which caused a massive loss of rupees 20 billion.
- Mattala airport, named after former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, was one of the major infrastructure projects of Rajapaksa’s nearly a decade-long rule.
- The project was funded through high-interest Chinese commercial loans.
- The only international flight operating from there was halted in May due to recurrent losses and flight safety issues.
- The airport has the capacity to handle one million passengers a year and is expected to handle five million passengers, 50,000 tonnes of cargo and 6,250 air traffic operations per annum by 2028.
- The government in 2017 invited investors to turn the airport into a profit-sharing joint venture. However no proposals were received to operate, manage and maintain it.
- The seaport built in Hambantota, has been leased to China to set off Chinese loans as equity.
- The Rajapaksa-led opposition has called the Hambantota seaport deal a sell out of national assets to China.
Why India is keen to revive this port?
- India plans to buy the world’s emptiest airport in an effort to limit China’s influence in the Indian Ocean.
- The reason for the purchase appears to be the airport’s proximity – just a half-hour drive away – from a shipping port in Hambantota, which is run by China.
- India is spending US$300 million buying an airport to block a Chinese naval base.
- In India, the Hambantota port is seen as another acquisition in China’s “string of pearls.”
- Each “pearl” is one of Beijing’s military assets and alliances in the Indian Ocean and Asia Pacific that, put together, effectively encircle India. These include Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.
- Just earlier this year, China opened its first international military base. The location is in Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, directly west of India.