India is proposing to spend around US$300 million to buy out Sri Lanka’s debt to China in return for a 40-year lease over Hambantota airport. But India’s future plans for the airport are hazy. Maybe a flight school or a new destination for Indian events such as weddings! There seems little chance that it will turn a profit.
When Chinese took over the Hambatota port, New Delhi started worrying that it would become an Indian Ocean hub for Chinese Navy. Its proximity to India would make it highly vulnerable to air attack in the event of conflict between the two countries. Though Colombo has repeatedly claimed that no Chinese naval facility will be permitted in Sri Lanka, New Delhi worries that China’s influence will one day reach a point where the Sri Lankan government simply cannot say no.
A naval base also requires maritime air surveillance capabilities. Control over Hambantota airport will give India considerable control over how the port is used. 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$300 million buying an airport to block a Chinese naval base.