Wednesday, December 13, 2017

India is buying world's emptiest airport in its battle for territorial dominance with China

India plans to buy the world’s emptiest airport in an effort to limit China’s influence in the Indian Ocean.

Designed to accommodate one million passengers per year, Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport – a vanity project by Sri Lanka’s former President Mahinda Rajapaksa that opened in 2013 – is a complete dud and receives just a dozen passengers a day.

Yet India is set to pay $US300 million for a joint venture granting it a 40-year lease over the nearly 2,000-acre space in southern Sri Lanka that was once so empty it was used to store rice.

“India’s future plans for the airport are hazy. Maybe a flight school? A new destination for Indian weddings? There seems little chance that it will turn a profit. That is not the point of the deal,” David Brewster, an expert in Indian Ocean strategies at the Australian National University, recently wrote for The Interpreter.

Instead, 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.

As China seeks to spread its reach cross-continent via the One Belt, One Road initiative, India, the US, and Japan all hold concerns that China wants to use the Sri Lankan port as a naval base. But its ability to do so is severely hampered without access to an airport.

“A key element in any overseas naval base, and even a logistics facility, is easy access by air for people and supplies. A naval base also requires maritime air surveillance capabilities. Control over Hambantota airport will give India considerable control over how the port is used,” wrote Brewster. “It is difficult to conceive of the Chinese navy developing a significant facility at Hambantota without also controlling the airport. In short, India is spending US$US300 million buying an airport to block a Chinese naval base.”
13/12/17 Tara Francis Chan/Business Insider

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