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Hambantota Port should be free of military activities– Japanese Defense Minister

Japan wants Sri Lanka’s southern Hambantota port to be "free of military activities", the visiting Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onedera has told Japanese media amid concerns in the region over the leasing of the facility to China. The Visiting defense minister was briefing the Japanese media after meeting the Sri Lankan leaders on August 22. .

 Mr.Onedera, who arrived in Colombo, is the first Japanese defense minister ever to visit Sri Lanka. His visit comes amid regional concerns over growing Chinese influence in Sri Lanka. The concerns comes in the wake of Chinese companies controlling the two Container terminals in Colombo Port and another Chinese company taking over the Hambantota Port at the strategic southern tip of the Island. The docking of Chinese nuclear submarine in Hambantota port a few years ago caused diplomatic uproar in the region.

Japanese NHK television, who interviewed Onedera after his meetings with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, reported that the Japanese Defence Minister had raised the Chinese issue with Sri Lanka. "Despite the lease there was an agreement that the port remains free of military activities," Onedera was quoted as saying by NHK.  The Japanese defense Minister is also scheduled to visit Hambantota Port on Auust 24.

Sri Lanka and China have entered into a 99-year lease of the Hambantota port which will enable the Chinese to set up an industrial park around the seaport.

Sri Lanka has responded to regional concerns, mostly from India, by saying that China would not be allowed to make any military presence at Hambantota Port, located on a key sea international shipping route.

Sri Lanka tried to allay New Delhi’s fears over Hambantota Port by entering into a joint venture with India’s Airports Authority to lease out the Hambantota international airport to manage it.

During his meeting with Sirisena, the two sides had agreed to boost defense cooperation in the maritime sphere. Japan has donated Sri Lanka two coast guards ships.

Onedera visited Trincomalee, the eastern Sri Lankan port. Coinciding with his visit is the arrival of the Japanese Naval ship "Ikazuchi" in Trincomalee. Both Japan and India are keen on taking control of the Oil storage dumps near Trincomalee port.


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