Japan regrets Sri Lanka scrapping 2019 deal with New Delhi, Tokyo

Japan regrets Sri Lanka scrapping 2019 deal with New Delhi, Tokyo”

The Colombo port trade unions opposed the proposal of investors from India and Japan buying 49 per cent stake in the ETC.

The government appeared to change course after a chorus of opposition rose from Trade Unions in the Colombo Port that normally back the government as well as Nationalists such as Industries Minister Wimal Weerawansha.

Two days after Sri Lanka chose to scrap a 2019 agreement with India and Japan for operating the East Coast Terminal (ECT), Japan says the decision was "unilateral and regrettable".

"The commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka. has been conveyed several times in the recent past, including at the leadership level", a spokesman for India's embassy in Colombo said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.

Tension has been growing in Sri Lanka in recent weeks over the port deal among trade unions and opposition political parties who have demanded the government halt the plan to develop the terminal with India and Japan.

During a visit to Colombo on January 6 by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, the ECT had been high on the agenda, and India had been hopeful of a firm commitment from Sri Lanka on the project.

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India lodged protests when Chinese submarines made unannounced visits to the Colombo terminal in 2014.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has assured that the Eastern Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port will be operated 100 per cent by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). The unions took the stand that the proposed deal with India's Adani Group was a sell out of the ECT.

An SLPA official told The Indian Express that the WCT offer is better commercially as it would give 85 per cent stake to the developers. Labor unions at the port had objected vehemently to the deal, with more than 20 launching a strike past year and threatening another in late January. "It is just that the development of ECT has been partially completed by us while the WTC work has to begin from scratch", the official said.

In 2019, India, Japan and Sri Lanka signed a trilateral Memorandum of Cooperation for development of the terminal under the former Maithripala Sirisena-Ranil Wickremesinghe govt. As I had noted in an earlier article on the issue, the whole saga once again illustrates the complex relationship between domestic and worldwide politics in South Asia, and how local political incentives and push-and-pull shape the latter.

The Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Gopal Baglay has had urgent talks with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena.

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