Dhaka cancels port to be built by China, India eyes another
With India’s relations with Bangladesh on an upswing, New Delhi has expressed interest in developing the neighbour’s newest deep sea port, Payra.
It’s a big move by India and an expression of the trajectory of strategic ties between the two countries. Separately, Japan may develop another deep sea port, Matarbari, in Cox’s Bazar.
As the Asian allies synergise converging interests, Bangladesh has quietly killed the Sonadia project in Cox’s Bazar, which was to have been developed by China.
For India, the Sonadia port, as the Hambantota and Gwadar ports, were deemed to be part of China’s much talked about “string of pearls” strategy to encircle India in its maritime neighbourhood.
The Payra seaport, which is on the south-western corner of Bangladesh, close to Chittagong, is much closer to the Indian coastline.
Dhaka has cancelled a port that China proposed to build at Sonadia, on the south-eastern corner of Bangladesh, which if completed would have brought the Chinese presence close to India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
While the official reason for cancellation of the Sonadia port was lack of commercial viability,the Japan-developed Matarbari is only 25km away. China had not only prepared a feasibility study for Sonadia, it had reportedly promised deep funding for the port. The cancellation of Sonadia is clearly a strategic decision by Bangladesh, doubtlessly helped along by India, Japan and the US.
The Payra port has gathered steam only since 2014, with a Payra Seaport Authority being setup under the Chittagong administrative authority.
The Bangladeshi government has decided the port will be built on a public-private partnership (PPP) basis and sources said a UK-based consultant is in the process of working out a feasibility study.
The port will take over seven years to build, but it’s not just the port, a deep channel would have to be cut through the heavily silted port to allow big vessels to come through. The Chittagong port is so heavily silted that only small vessels, taking advantage of incoming and outgoing tides, can come in at present.
Indian companies have reportedly started taking an investment interest in the Payra project. Bangladesh has also invited Chinese companies to build the port, and reports from Dhaka say some 10 countries have expressed interest in the project. That, sources said, was very different from China designing, funding and building a port all on its own, which would have a commercial as well as a potential military role. The loss of Sonadia for China comes after it lost its competitive edge in Sri Lanka with the loss of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government.