National

Japan, Sri Lanka exploring port infrastructure deals to counter reliance on China: source

Kyodo

Japan plans to dispatch a team to Sri Lanka in the coming months to inquire about the potential for infrastructure investment in the key port of Trincomalee, a government source said.

The move is aimed at strengthening bilateral cooperation through infrastructure and helping Sri Lanka achieve its goal of reducing its dependence on Chinese assistance, the source said.

For Japan, closer cooperation with Sri Lanka could help secure vital sea lanes used to import oil from the Middle East.

The two countries are also expected to improve cooperation on maritime security in light of China’s expansionary activities in the Indian Ocean, the source said.

As in the East and South China seas, Japan is pushing — along with the United States and other countries — to preserve freedom of navigation and the rule of law in the Indian Ocean.

Infrastructure development in Trincomalee, in Sri Lanka’s northeast, was delayed by a civil war that rocked the country for a quarter of a century until 2009, wasting its potential as a natural port.

According to the source, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena affirmed their intention to cooperate on developing Sri Lankan port facilities at their May meeting in Nagoya.

The Japanese government subsequently decided to entrust its premier overseas aid body, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, with dispatching an inquiry team to exchange opinions with local authorities on the assistance needed, the source said.

Beijing has placed strategic importance on Sri Lanka in recent years in light of its key location in the Indian Ocean. China’s investment has included massive assistance with port works in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city and commercial capital.

But the administration of Sirisena, who came to power in January 2015, has sought to create closer ties with Japan, India and the United States, distancing itself from the previous government’s leanings toward China.