Ranil defends Hambantota deal

Sri Lankan Prime Minister says bases won’t be made available to foreign countries

Updated - August 31, 2017 10:23 pm IST

Published - August 31, 2017 10:21 pm IST - Colombo

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, centre, greets External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj at a summitin Colombo on Thursday.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, centre, greets External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj at a summitin Colombo on Thursday.

Firmly defending his government’s controversial deal with China on the southern Hambantota Port, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Thursday said Sri Lanka would not make its bases available to foreign countries.

Speaking at the inauguration of the Indian Ocean Conference organised by the India Foundation here, the Sri Lankan Premier said: “I state clearly that Sri Lanka’s government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena does not enter into military alliances with any country or make our bases available to foreign countries. We will continue military cooperation such as training, supply of equipment and taking part in joint exercises with friendly countries.”

His remarks came after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj spoke, underscoring the need for enhanced economic and security cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region. New Delhi, among others, has reportedly been concerned over Colombo’s decision to sell 70% stake in the southern port to the State-run China Merchants Port Holdings for $1.12 billion, to service its outstanding debt to China.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said in the absence of an effective multilateral trade agreement for the Indian Ocean region, Sri Lanka decided to enter into bilateral agreements with the neighbouring littoral states. “This is the only option available. We already have Free Trade Agreements with India and Pakistan.”

Pacts with India, China

Sri Lanka is currently negotiating the Economic and Technological Cooperation agreement with India, and an FTA with China.

Speaking earlier, Ms. Swaraj said if the revitalised maritime economy of the Indian Ocean region is to be a force for global economic growth in the coming years, it is essential that the waters remain peaceful, stable and secure. “We see the Indian Ocean as not just a water body, but a global stage for continued economic, social, and cultural dialogue.”

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