Sri Lanka on Tuesday said it will develop the West Container Terminal (WCT) at the Colombo Port along with India and Japan. The decision comes a month after the Rajapaksa government ejected the two partners from a 2019 tripartite agreement to jointly develop the East Container Terminal (ECT), citing resistance to “foreign involvement”.
Addressing the media on decisions taken at Monday’s Cabinet meeting, spokesperson Keheliya Rambukwella said approval had been granted to develop the WCT with investors nominated by India and Japan. While the High Commission of India had “approved” Adani Ports, which was to invest in the ECT project earlier, Japan is yet to name an investor, according to officially published Cabinet decisions.
Neither India nor Japan has officially commented on the offer, or on the said private investment from the countries. According to official sources in New Delhi, Colombo had been in talks directly with potential investor Adani Group, while the government “was not part of” the discussions.
Further, official sources in Colombo expressed surprise at the mention of the Indian High Commission in the Cabinet decision, pointing out that it was the Government of Sri Lanka, and not a foreign mission, that would “approve” investments coming into the island nation.
The WCT is adjacent to the China-run CICT and just a couple of kilometres away from the China-backed Port City being built on reclaimed land, making it a strategically desirable spot for India, whose concerns over China’s presence in Sri Lanka are well known.
Colombo’s alternative offer also comes at a time when Sri Lanka is seeking support at the ongoing UN Human Right Council session, where a resolution on the country’s rights record will soon be put to vote. The government recently wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Asked if the two developments were linked, Mr. Rambukwella said they were “two different areas — one is commercial, other one, more of international relations.” However, on the resolution, he said: “I think India would stand with the right group, and take correct measures to support us, that is our belief.”