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Sri Lankan Navy moves its Southern Command to Chinese controlled Hambantota Port

The Southern Command of the Sri Lankan Navy is being moved to the Hambantota Port which is run by a Chinese company with a view to allay apprehensions in neighboring India that the port may be used by Chinese navy for surveillance purposes.

The Sri Lankan Navy is moving its Southern Command to Hambantota, the island nation Prime Minister Ranil Wickeremesinghe’s Office said in a statement issued on July two.

Sri Lanka will move its southern naval command to a port leased to a state-run Chinese firm but China will not use it for military purposes, the prime minister’s office said Saturday.

Colombo’s announcement will likely raise fresh concerns in New Delhi over China’s military potentially getting a foothold in the Indian Ocean through the deep-sea port of Hambantota, which straddles a major east-west shipping route.

 Sri Lanka has a tiny navy and its southern command is a small component sources said questioning how they could tackle the might of the Chinese navy in case they decide to use the Hambantota Port.

There is no need to be frightened as security of the port will be under the control of the Sri Lanka Navy, the PM office said in its elaborate statement aimed at convincing India.

Sri Lanka has also informed the Chinese that Hambantota cannot be used (by China) for military purposes," it said.

Sri Lanka owes China billions of dollars that former president Mahinda Rajapakse’s government borrowed for major infrastructure projects, including the Hambantota port located on the island’s southern tip. But unable to pay back the debts, Sri Lanka agreed last year to give China a 70-percent stake in the port on a 99-year lease.

This stoked concerns in India and the US about China’s Belt and Road initiative that has seen Beijing loan countries across Asia and beyond huge amounts of money, ostensibly to develop their infrastructure to ease trade.

The new government of President Maithripala Sirisena turned down a Chinese request in May last year for a submarine call at Colombo shortly at the time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the island. But in the past Chinese nuclear submarines have docked at Colombo port, a major irritant in India- Sri Lankan ties. Two Chinese submarines had called at Colombo in 2014 during the final year of Rajapakse’s tenure.

 

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