Japan, India and Sri Lanka are reportedly planning to develop the Port of Colombo as part of their strategy to tap the trade opportunities offered by the Indian Ocean.

The development will also boost Colombo Port’s capacity to handle additional containers and strengthen marine transportation in and around South Asia, reported Nikkei Asian Review.

By developing the Sri Lankan port, all three countries seek to control the Chinese assertiveness that has been using Belt and Road projects to influence the region.

According to the publication, all three governments are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) this year while work on the project is scheduled to commence by March 2020.

Working-level discussions are under progress and government officials from the three countries are likely to agree on blueprint and form of the project this year.

Plans also include corporate partners to support the development of Colombo Port. Japanese Official Development Assistance is expected to provide a portion of funding for the project.

The East container terminal, which is situated at the southern part of the Port of Colombo, will be developed by the three countries. The development includes deepening the port and making it capable of handling large container ships.

Colombo Port is one of the largest ports in Sri Lanka and facilitates 90% of the country’s marine goods transport to Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.

In 2017, the port had 6.21 million twenty-foot equivalent units of traffic.

A Japanese Government source told the publication: “If the development of the Port of Colombo takes time, cargo might be transferred to Hambantota.”

A few of Japan’s primary maritime routes go via the Indian Ocean. Hence, the upgraded capacity of the region’s ports will boost the security of tankers and commercial ships.