China will not be allowed to set up military facility at Hambantota port: Sri Lanka

With China and Sri Lanka finalising a free trade agreement to mark 65 years of trade ties, unease over Beijing’s influence could spike.
People watch Chinese dredging ships work at Hambantota.(Reuters File)
People watch Chinese dredging ships work at Hambantota.(Reuters File)
Updated on Feb 04, 2017 05:23 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Beijing | BySutirtho Patranobis

Sri Lanka will not allow China to set up a military facility at any port in the country, the Sri Lankan ambassador to Beijing said on Saturday, adding that Chinese investors have been informed that no civilian facility will be allowed to be used militarily.

“We have to consider the concerns of the neighbours. We do not want to create any situation, which... may become (a source of) suspicion. We know the Indian Ocean is a very important ocean in international trade,” Sri Lankan ambassador Karunasena Kodituwakku said.

“We can have friendly joint exercises with India, US, Pakistan and with China. In case of Hambantota port, there will be a base for the Sri Lankan navy,” he said.

The terms of handing over the Hambantota port to the Chinese company, China Merchants Port Holding (CMPH) company have been broadly decided, Kodituwakku indicated.

“I do not know about other countries, but Sri Lanka has very categorically informed the investor that it (Hambantota port) will not be allowed to be used for any military purposes,” he said. “Not only the Hambantota port , any port in Sri Lanka will not be allowed to be used by any military.”

Kodituwakku said that the Hambantota port hasn’t been a viable project so far.

“Very small numbers (of ships). Even the incoming they have received is not even enough to maintain the port maintenance, forget the salaries about the people who are working,” he said.

With officials from both countries working to finalise a “free trade agreement” (FTA) this year, marking the 65th year of trade ties, unease over China’s financial influence could see a spike in the coming months.

The FTA and several facets of Chinese investment in Sri Lanka will be on the agenda when Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe visits Beijing in May to attend an international seminar on President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

In January, clashes between government supporters and protesters had erupted during a rally against the port deal in Hambantota, about 240 km southeast of Colombo.

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