The Hambantota port facility, 2015
CNN  — 

When Sri Lanka’s government first looked to develop a port on its southern coast that faced the Indian Ocean, it went not to China, but to its neighbor, India.

Then-Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa said he urgently needed funding to transform the harbor of his home town and asked Indian officials for help with the project.

New Delhi showed little interest in funding a costly and massive port construction project in the underdeveloped fishing village of Hambantota, a district that had been crushed by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

“It was offered to India first. I was desperate for development work, but ultimately the Chinese agreed to build it,” Rajapaksa said in an interview with Singapore’s Straits Times in 2010.

Beijing invested $1.5 billion in 2010 to build the port.

The venture was considered economically unviable and indeed, in the years that followed, the port sat empty and neglected, and Sri Lanka’s debt ballooned.