SL rejects US claims, says no Chinese military base at H’tota

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has rejected US' claim that China might set up a "forward military base" at Hambantota Port, describing it as "imaginary", the Economic Times reported on Thursday.

Addressing a programme at London's Oxford University on
Monday, Mr.Wickremesinghe said some people are seeing "imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Sri Lanka.

“The Hambantota Port is a commercial joint venture between our Ports Authority and China Merchants - a company listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. There are no foreign naval bases in Sri Lanka," he emphasised.

His comments came days after US Vice-President Mike Pence alleged China of using "debt diplomacy" to expand its global influence and said that Hambantota "may soon become a forward military base for China's growing blue-water navy"

Mr.Wickremesinghe said Lankan Navy's Southern Command was being relocated in the Hambantota port to control security and the US Defence Department has been briefed on these developments.

He said Sri Lanka was also concluding a commercial agreement that would see the Airport Authority of India (AAI) taking over the control of the Hambantota airport, which was built with high interest commercial loan from China.

The Prime Minister said, "In this atmosphere of suspicion, many countries fear that the South China Sea issues can spill over, leading to future militarisation and military competition in the Indian Ocean."

"This has resulted in a number of stakeholders intensifying their interest and presence in the Indian Ocean by expanding their fleets, upgrading their bases, securing access to foreign ports, and aggressive naval posturing via joint exercises, extended sorties, and live-fire drills.

"The Indian Ocean region requires a common understanding that will ensure peace and stability within the region.There is also a need to work towards building a regional framework for both trade and security – while ensuring that the region remains free, open and inclusive...The interests of the smaller states are best served by advocating for and upholding a rule-based order in the region," he said.