Written by Charitha Fernando
21 Dec, 2016 | 8:30 pm
Dec 21, 2016 (Newsfirst) – Only the Sri Lanka Navy will be allowed to conduct military operations out of the Chinese-built deep water port in Hambantota, Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade Malik Samarawickrama told a media briefing on Wednesday.
“This port will only be used for commercial purposes. Our government has especially said that except for the Sri Lanka Navy, this port will not be given for military operations,” Samarawickrama said.
The announcement comes ahead of a concession agreement scheduled to be signed in January 2017 with Hong Kong based China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited to operate the Southern Sri Lankan port on a public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement.
As per the deal, Sri Lanka will lease 80 percent of the Hambantota port to China Merchants Port Holdings Company for 99 years for 1.12 billion US dollars, Samarawickrama said. The Hambantota port was built with the help of Chinese loans and contractors in 2010 under former president Mahinda Rajapaksa but the port has not been financially viable with around 60 percent of Colombo port’s profits being used to maintain the Hambantota port.
Experts say heavy Chinese investments in Sri Lankan ports have not only plunged Sri Lanka into debt but also raised security concerns for its closest neighbour, India. The reported citing of Chinese submarines on two separate occasions at the Colombo port in 2014 irked New Delhi.
Presence in Sri Lankan ports give China easy access to the main East-West sea lines of communication (SLOCs) that connect the oil rich Middle East and Africa with East Asia, the hub of manufacturing.
India fears that China is expanding its naval presence across the Indian Ocean Region by building maritime infrastructure in friendly sates. A report filed by Reuters following the 2015 January 8th presidential elections said the turning point of SL-India relationship was the submarines. “There was real anger,” Reuters quoting an Indian security official said. When asked about India’s reaction to the Hambantota port deal with China Merchant Port Holdings Limited, Samarawickrama said “not only with India, we work closely with many countries. India knows that what we are doing is a commercial operation, so they have no problem with it,” “We are discussing with India on how we can develop other regions like the Trincomalee harbour, whether we can set up industries and strengthen trade with South Indian states,” he said. Image Courtesy: Romboll
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