Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe rejected US’ claim that China is setting up a forward military base in Sri Lanka and said that the Hambantota Port is a commercial joint venture between Sri Lanka and China.
Wickremesinghe was addressing an event at Oxford University in London, where he emphasized that there are no foreign Naval bases in Sri Lanka and said, “Some people are seeing imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Sri Lanka. Whereas the Hambantota Port is a commercial joint venture between our Ports Authority and China Merchants – a company listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange”.
His remarks came a day after US Vice President Mike Pence accused China of using the debt diplomacy to expand its influence and said, “May soon become a forward military base for China’s growing blue water navy”.
— NDTV (@ndtv) January 20, 2016
Wickremesinghe said that in this atmosphere, many countries fear that Chinese military influence may spread in the Indian Ocean region and considering this a number of stakeholders have started securing access to foreign ports and aggressive naval exercises.
He said, “In this atmosphere of suspicion, many countries fear that the South China Sea issues can spill over, leading to future militarization and military competition in the Indian Ocean”.
He added, “This has resulted in a number of stakeholders intensifying their interest and presence in the Indian Ocean by expanding their fleets, upgrading their bases, securing access to foreign ports, and aggressive naval posturing via joint exercises, extended sorties, and live-fire drills”.
He also said that to ensure peace and stability in the Indian Ocean region all parties require a common understanding and need to make a regional framework for trade and security.
Wickremesinghe said, “The Indian Ocean region requires a common understanding that will ensure peace and stability within the region. There is also a need to work towards building a regional framework for both trade and security, while ensuring that the region remains free, open and inclusive…The interests of the smaller states are best served by advocating for and upholding a rule-based order in the region”.