Sri Lanka & China’s Controversial Airspace Deal

In a race to further advance the infrastructure of their nation, Sri Lankan officials have entertained different ideas. But one possible development project looks like it will be dead in the water over fears of international conflict.

Last year, the government of Sri Lanka gave a green light to the construction of Port City in their capital city of Colombo. The planning and construction would come at the behest of China, who has an investment in the project estimated at a steep US$1.4 billion. Port City, under the direction of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, is seen as an avant-garde commercial shipping port that will include a luxury marina as well as a Formula One racetrack. 108 hectares of land has been slated for the project, and would be under Chinese control according to the details of the agreement. Further stipulations with regards to the land see 20 of those hectares of land be immediately ceded to China with the rest placed under a lease of 99 years. However, this has raised a bone of contention from the Sri Lanka Civil Aviation Authority claiming that this contract would not only give China sovereign rights to the land, but the airspace over the land as well. This finding is in accordance to the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation treaty of 1944 to which Sri Lanka was a signatory.

The news has raised a good degree of alarm across the region. Citizens have begun to wonder how the Sri Lankan government could have been oblivious to the articles of the treaty as to allow China to possibly have this control over their airspace.

India, the country’s largest trading partner before China’s investments of late, has taken to express strong reservations over the deal. They’ve objected to China’s interest in Sri Lanka before, especially in regards to China helping the island nation to resist a United Nations investigation into allegations of war crimes there. The airspace element of the Port City project would immediately hinder the Indian airline industry. Sri Lanka lies on more than one commercial airline flight path, and a deal like this could cause havoc for other airline carriers in terms of re-routing flights. As a result of the findings, the Sri Lankan government has suspended all work on the Port City project in Colombo pending further investigation. Sources within the government have also confirmed that the project may be scrapped if certain questions asked during the inquiries would lead to more problems coming to the surface.