Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe currently on a visit to Japan, has set at rest once again all lingering doubts over the China -built Hambantota Port.
‘It would not be a ‘Military Port’, he declared and made it clear that foreign forces wouldn’t be allowed to use Sri Lankan ports in a way inimical to the interests of other countries. He stressed that security being strictly handled by the Sri Lanka Navy and law enforcement agencies.
The clarification was timely in a sense since there are conflicting reports over the future of Hambantota Port, which has become a white elephant for the Sri Lankan economy.
Lankan Premier’s interacted with the captains of Japanese industry and trade in Tokyo on Tuesday, April 11. His host was the Japan External Trade Organization in Tokyo.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is accompanied on the visit by professor Maithree Wickremesinghe, Ministers Sarath Amunugama and Malik Samarawickreme, and a team of high level officials
They were welcomed by Hiroto Izumi Japanese Prime Minister’s special Advisor, Sri Lanka Ambassador Dhammika Ganganath Dissanayaka, and Japanese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Kenichi Suganuma.
As Chinese interest in the Port continue to be viewed with suspicion, especially with regard to its military interests, the Premier said, “The Agreement on the joint venture between the Chinese company and the Sri Lankan Ports Authority precludes any foreign country from using the harbor for military purposes”.
Assuring Sri Lanka’s commitment to regional peace and stability, Wickremesinghe emphasised that the Sri Lankan Navy would be responsible for security at all ports in the island nation.
He did not directly refer to the nitty-gritty of the Sri Lanka’s agreement with China on the Hambantota port and the Chinese funded Colombo port city but said: “It is only a commercial operation and we do not want any of Sri Lanka’s harbours to be used for military purposes other than that of the Sri Lanka Navy.”
The law and order at the Port would be handled by the Police, Customs and Immigration of the Sri Lankan government and all internal port security would need to hire Sri Lankan staff, the Prime Minister added.
Premier Wickremesinghe reassured his Japanese audience that any violation of conditions in the agreement would mean that the Sri Lankan government could take over the Port without payment of compensation.
“Any warship can come into the Port, provided the Government of Sri Lanka agrees to it,” said the Prime Minister as he sought to promote an equal playing field for all.
In March this year, the US Pacific Fleet’s transport ship USNS Fall River visited Hambantota on a Pacific Partnership goodwill mission. During its 12-day stay, it held a joint exercise with the navies of Sri Lanka, Japan and Australia.
The visit was seen as a show of strength against Chinese expansion in the region along with allies such as Japan who is keen to see that Chinese “aggression” in South China Sea ” does not extend to the Indian Ocean.