After the recent Doklam standoff between India and China, the battle lines seem to be drawn between the two Asian giants once again. And this time the battleground will be Sri Lanka.
According to the reports, India is in advanced talks with Sri Lanka to revive it almost defunct Chinese-built airport which is located right next to the port China has leased.
China had four years ago given $190 million assistance (90 per cent of the total cost) to Sri Lanka to build an airport in Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) in Hambantota.
The port China has leased in Sri Lanka was the part of Dragon’s old 'String of Pearls' policy that aims at ring-fencing India. China’s access to the Indian Ocean is the direct threat to India’s security.
China is investing heavily in the in Sri Lanka's infrastructure as part of its One Belt One Road (OBOR) project.
Earlier in the year, Sri Lanka signed a USD 1.1 billion deal with China to sell 70 per cent stake in the strategic Hambantota port to a state-run Chinese firm, a move that raised security concerns in India.
The deal had been delayed by several months over concerns that the deep-sea port could be used by the Chinese Navy.
The accumulated loss from the port was more than USD 300 million and the money realised from the deal will set off the debts owed to China.
The Hambantota airport is also making losses and Sri Lanka is unable to pay off its debt to China due to country’s slow economic growth. Out of its total $64.9 billion national debt, Sri Lanka owes $8 billion to China.
The recent Doklam standoff between India and China highlighted how the Asian rivals are fighting for the supremacy in South Asia. Hambantota could be another battleground as India has sharpened its strategy to counter China on all fronts in the region.