Chinese military activity will not be allowed at the Hambantota port considering concerns from India, Sri Lankan ambassador in Beijing said on Saturday, playing down protests by hundreds of opposition supporters over handing of 80 per cent stakes of the strategic port to a Chinese firm.
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Apparently referring to Pakistan handing over Gwadar port to Chinese, Ambassador Karunasena Kodituwakku told the media on the sidelines of Sri Lankan Independence Day reception in Beijing that: “I do not know about other countries but Sri Lanka has very categorically informed the (Chinese) investor that it will not be allowed to be used for any military purposes”.
Playing down protests by locals and labour unions over handing of 80 per cent stakes of the Hambantota port to a Chinese firm, the envoy said that considering India’s concerns, no military activity will be allowed at the port. The Maithripala Sirisena government which earlier opposed the Chinese investments procured by pro-China predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa faced public protests over handing over 15,000 acres of land for a Chinese industrial park in Hambantota as well as the port. Ironically Rajapaksa who procured about $7 billion for Hambantota and other projects opposed the handing over of the port and land to Chinese.
Admitting concerns expressed by China over the protests, the Ambassador said: “Despite the opposition from a small group, the government will go ahead”. The Sri Lankan government said the port was being handed over with 80 per cent stake for a Chinese firm on 99 year lease as it has no commercial viability and duty bound to pay back the huge Chinese loans.
The Ambassador said Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe would attend the high-profile One Belt One Road (Silk Road) summit called by Chinese President Xi Jinping in May. Chinese officials said 20 world leaders confirmed their attendance but did not provide details. Wickramasinghe’s presence at the Silk Road summit as China regards Sri Lanka as an important base for its 21st Maritime Silk Road in the Indian ocean over which India has expressed strong reservations.