No Chinese military base at port: Lanka | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 12, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, October 12, 2018

No Chinese military base at port: Lanka

Sri Lanka rejected on Wednesday US claims that China might establish a "forward military base" at a strategic port leased to Beijing by the indebted Indian Ocean island nation.

Sri Lanka last year granted a 99-year lease on the Hambantota deep-sea port to Beijing, after it was unable to repay Chinese loans for the $1.4-billion project.

The port, situated along key shipping routes, is one of a string of infrastructure projects in Asia, Africa and Europe being funded under China's Belt and Road Initiative that has rattled the US and its allies, including neighbouring India.

Last week US Vice-President Mike Pence said Hambantota "may soon become a forward military base for China's growing blue-water navy," according to US media.

But Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe's office said that there would be no foreign military presence at Hambantota, and that the US State Department had been briefed.

"Our navy's Southern Command is being relocated in Hambantota to control port security," Wickremesinghe's office quoted him as saying in Britain on Monday.

Wickremesinghe said Sri Lanka was also concluding a commercial agreement that would see India take over the management of Hambantota airport -- another white-elephant project built with Chinese loans under former president Mahinda Rajapakse.

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