Is China planning to use the Hambantota port as a military base? Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has categorically rejected US’ claim that China might set up a “forward military base” at Hambantota port it has leased to Beijing describing it as “imaginary”. He also added that India could get full access and control of Hambantota port for commercial operations.
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Last year, Sri Lanka had leased the Hambantota port to Beijing for 99 years after it failed to repay a Chinese loan of USD 1.4 billion for the project. China, after gaining the control of the port raised concerns that the port could use for the military purposes.
Addressing a program at London’s Oxford University on Monday, Sri Lankan PM Wickremesinghe said some people are seeing “imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Sri Lanka. Whereas 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 stressed. His comments came days after US Vice-President Mike Pence alleged Beijing 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”.
Wickremesinghe said Sri Lankan Navy’s Southern Command was being deployed in the Hambantota port to control security and “the US Defence Department has been notified about the 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 a high-interest commercial loan from China.