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Lanka rejects US claims, says no Chinese military base at port

Press Trust of India  |  Colombo 

Sri Lankan has rejected US' claim that might set up a "forward military base" at a strategic port it has leased to the communist nation, describing it as "imaginary".

Last year, Colombo had leased the to for 99 years after it failed to repay a Chinese loan of USD 1.4 billion for the project.

gaining the control of the port has raised concerns that the country could use the harbour for military purposes.

Addressing a programme at London's on Monday, Wickremesinghe said some people are seeing "imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Whereas the is a commercial joint venture between our and Merchants - a company listed in the "

"There are no foreign naval bases in Sri Lanka," he emphasised.

His comments came days after US alleged China of using "debt diplomacy" to expand its global influence and said that Hambantota "may soon become a forward military base for China's growing blue-water navy".

Several suggested that the deepwater port, which is near a main shipping route between and Europe, is likely to play a major role in China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The BRI, also known as the Silk Road Economic Belt, is a development strategy proposed by the which focuses on connectivity and cooperation between Eurasian countries.

The calls the initiative "a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future". However, other nations, including India, see it as a push by to take a larger role in global affairs with a China-centred trading network.

India's has been vocal in expressing its opposition to the BRI, which includes the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that traverses through Pakistan-occupied

Wickremesinghe said Lankan Navy's was being relocated in the to control security and "the has been briefed on these developments".

He said was also concluding a commercial agreement that would see the of (AAI) taking over the control of the Hambantota airport, which was built with high interest commercial loan from China.

The said, "In this atmosphere of suspicion, many countries fear that the Sea issues can spill over, leading to future militarisation and military competition in the "

"This has resulted in a number of stakeholders intensifying their interest and presence in the 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.

"The 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," he said.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, October 11 2018. 15:25 IST