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.
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
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.
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.