Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

by AMTI leadership, Center for Strategic & International Studies, Washington, DC, July 8, 2015

Image result for asia maritime transparency initiativePorts & Power in the Indian Ocean

How naval power, porting agreements, and access will shape the future of the Indian Ocean

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Colombo, Sri Lanka


China has been involved in the construction of an artificial island near the Colombo South Harbor, to be known as Colombo Port City. After President Maithripala Sirisena’s victory in Sri Lanka’s January presidential election, the USD 1.4 billion project faced cancellation and it remains unclear whether or not it is now back on track. China docked a nuclear submarine at Colombo port in September 2014 and a diesel-powered attack submarine in November 2014. Meanwhile, India expressed strong reservations about these dockings at the ministerial level. China extended USD 4.671 billion in assistance to Sri Lanka between 2005 and 2012, replacing Japan as Sri Lanka’s largest overseas donor.

In the Future

Sri Lanka has stated that it will not allow additional Chinese submarines to dock in its ports, citing concerns over relations with India and other nations. If the Colombo Port project resumes, however, the Sri Lankan administration may be more receptive to China than previously indicated. The port project would become part of China’s One Belt One Road and Maritime Silk Road initiatives. Some analysts have suggested that China’s goal is to create a maritime conduit protected by ships and submarines, which would allow the nation to project significant power in the Indo-Pacific region.


Without a formal basing agreement, port visits by Chinese submarines to Sri Lanka will be sporadic at best. China’s potential extension of its land reclamation expertise in building Colombo Port City speaks to its willingness to use its South China Sea tactics elsewhere, as well as to its interest in courting Indian Ocean maritime nations. With frosty Sino-Indian relations, Sri Lanka may be the largest infrastructure hub in play for China in the region.

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About AMTI Leadership

Dr. Michael Green is senior vice president for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Executive Advisor to AMTI. Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper is Director of AMTI and Fellow with the Asia Program at CSIS. Learn more about the core AMTI leadership.

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