Sri Lanka rejects US claims, says no Chinese military base at port

COLOMBO, Oct 11: Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has rejected US’ claim that China might set up a “forward military base” at a strategic port it has leased to the communist nation, describing it as “imaginary”.
Last year, Colombo had leased the Hambantota port to Beijing for 99 years after it failed to repay a Chinese loan of $1.4 billion for the project.
China gaining the control of the port has raised concerns that the country could use the harbour for military purposes.
Addressing a programme at London’s Oxford University on Monday, 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 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”. Several media reports suggested that the deepwater port, which is near a main shipping route between Asia and Europe, is likely to play a major role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). (Agencies)