New Delhi (Sputnik) — The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has agreed to bail out Sri Lanka's loss-making Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota, which adjoins a port leased to China by the island nation for 99 years.
Sri Lanka's civil aviation minister, Nimal Siripala de Silva, informed the parliament about the decision wherein AAI will form a joint venture with the Sri Lankan airport authority to operate the $210 million facility dubbed as the "world's emptiest airport." The airport was built with Chinese commercial loans attracting high interest.
"We need to revive this dying airport which caused a massive loss. The final terms of the agreement remain to be worked out," Nimal Siripala de Silva told the Parliament.
Sandwiched by China & India, Sri Lanka does the balancing act.— Manu Rajvanshi (@MRaj2012) July 6, 2018
Says it will hand over Rajapakse Int'l Airport to India. Airport is inoperative.
Just 30 km from the strategic Hambantota Port controlled by China.
Bravo! @MEAIndia @SushmaSwaraj @SpokespersonMoD#ChinaDebtTrap pic.twitter.com/jwrhqkZ8Rt
"Only India offered to help us. Now we are in discussion with the Indians for the joint venture," de Silva said.
The aviation minister was responding to an adjournment motion initiated by the opposition that questioned whether the government was taking such a step to please India, which had opposed Sri Lanka's move of leasing out the Hambantota seaport to China.
"India has taken up with Sri Lanka security issues, including in the regional context. We are hopeful that Sri Lanka will continue to keep in mind India's security concerns and sensitivities," VK Singh, India's minister of state for external affairs, said in the parliament.
Last July, Sri Lanka had signed a 99-year lease for the Hambantota seaport with a Chinese state-run shipping company, China Merchants Port Holdings (CMPort), as it was unable to repay interest on an approximately $1.5 billion Chinese loan. China Merchants Ports Holding Company Ltd. has a majority stake of 85 percent and Sri Lanka Port Authority (SLPA) has the remaining 15 percent stake in Hambantota International Port Group Co. Ltd, which currently operates the port.