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.
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
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.