As diplomatic tensions between India and China escalate and many neighboring nations feeling the heat, Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has pledged to balance diplomatic ties between India and China while defending Chinese infrastructure projects in the country.
“We are aware of the world power rivalry and regional power dynamics, but our foreign policy is to remain neutral,” Rajapaksa said while addressing Nikkei’s Future of Asia conference. “We will not jeopardize Indian security,” he emphasized and at the same time, ties with China will continue, Rajapaksa added.
Sri Lankan President vehemently defended China’s infrastructure projects in the country — the $1.5 billion Hambantota Port, which was constructed with Chinese loans and has been leased to China for 99 years.
International media have often termed the project as China’s ‘Debt-Trap’ policy. Younis Dar writing for the EurAsian Times had written earlier, — On paper, BRI looks very promising as it looks to support developing Asian, European and African countries, delivering trillions of dollars in loans and entraps you as soon as you default.
“The Hambantota Port is not a debt trap,” Rajapaksa asserted, rejecting assertations that Sri Lanka had coughed up the port (as New York Times had reported) to a Chinese company on a 99-year lease because it defaulted on the loans. It is a “commercially viable project” and is “transforming Sri Lanka’s overall port infrastructure.”
The Chinese Foreign Ministry in one of the statements had earlier termed the China-Sri Lanka pact, including the Hambantota port project, constructed on the “basis of equality and consultation.”
China’s projects in Sri Lanka are part of Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which raised major concerns in India as the port is close to the Indian southern coastline and Beijing could use it for military purposes.
China has often expelled Indian concerns and said it was a mutually beneficial deal that would aid Sri Lanka’s economy. Even Colombo has repeatedly assured New Delhi that it will not compromise Indian security and the port would be used for commercial purposes only.
Earlier, former Sri Lankan foreign secretary Jayanath Colombage had raised many eyebrows and said, “President has stated that in terms of strategic security, we will follow an ‘India first’ policy. In his remarks, Colombage also said the decision to give Hambantota port on a 99-year lease to China was a “mistake”.