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Srilankan Minister confirms NO to Chinese Nuclear submarine at Colombo port last week

Sri Lanka said it has turned down the Chinese navyís request to dock its nuclear submarine in Colombo port last week saying the island nation will not permit any foreign country to conduct military operations in their ports, the Sri Lankan Minister for Special Assignment  Sarath Amunugama told the high profile meeting of Belt and Road Forum (OBOR) which concluded its two day session on May 17. The Sri Lankan ministerís assertion is seen as an effort to reassure Indiaís security concerns. Amunagama said that Sri Lanka will not permit any foreign military operations in its port by any country including China.

Confirming reports that recent Chinese requests for docking of its submarines was declined, he said, "we denied them permission." "Lanka's position is that our harbours and ports are meant for commercial operations. All other countries have no strategic interests. We are equidistant from everyone," he said.
Two years ago, a Chinese submarine was allowed to be docked in Colombo harbour by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2014 which sparked protests from India.

"China, India, US and all other countries cannot enter Sri Lankan waters territorial waters without the consent of their government," Amanugama said.

Even the Hambantota harbour which Sri Lanka plans to hand over to China under debt equity scheme will function under Sri Lankan Port Authority (SLPA).

He said in the agreement currently being finalized to give 80 per cent stake to Chinese shipping company, it will be allowed to operate inside the harbour but all the outside operations will be carried out by SLPA.

The harbour master who permits the ship movement into the Port will be an SAPA employee, he said.

Allaying India's concerns, he said Sri Lanka is taking assistance from the Indian Navy to maintain maritime security including tracking submarines. India is also providing patrol boats, he said.

About Hambantota port, he said, it is entirely a commercial operation. "It was constructed with Chinese assistance costing about $1.4 billion. It was established during the regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa," he said.

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 "But we had an extended debt. Sri Lanka is facing a problem of debt repayment," he said, defending Sri Lanka opting for debt swap for harbour.

 Sri Lanka has an estimated debt of $8 billion to China. The loans were taken for different mega projects.

 So last year we raised the issue with Premier Li Keqiang. At first we asked for a debt relief, either to write it off or to reschedule payment. But the Premier said it is not possible because they have lent money to several other countries. We cannot write it off to create precedent," he said.

However, the Chinese premier suggested to convert it into equity by forming a joint venture company. The company will be registered in Sri Lanka. Chinese side will convert the loan into equity. Sri Lanka doesn't have to repay," he said, adding, "it is a win win situation for us".the minister said.

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