Colombo: Sri Lanka would not be allowed to be used as a base for any threats against India, President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said, asserting that the island nation remains “neutral”, having no military agreements with China.
Wickremesinghe, who was on an official visit to the UK and France, made the comments during an interview with France’s state media this week.
In an interview with France24, Wickremesinghe said, “We are a neutral country, but we also emphasize the fact that we cannot allow Sri Lanka to be used as a base for any threats against India.” Responding to a question about China’s perceived military presence in Sri Lanka, the president said that the Chinese have been in the country for about “1500 years and, so far, there has been no military base”.
Wickremesinghe asserted that the island nation has no military agreement with China and said, “There won’t be any military agreements. I don’t think China will enter into one.” The president said there were no issues of military use by the Chinese of the southern port of Hambantota, which Beijing took over on a 99-year lease as a debt swap in 2017.
He assured that even though the Hambantota harbor has been given out to China’s Merchants, its security is controlled by the Sri Lankan government.
“The Southern Naval Command will be shifted to Hambantota, and we have got one brigade stationed in Hambantota in the nearby areas,” he added.
Last year, Sri Lanka allowed the Chinese ballistic missile and satellite tracking ship Yuan Wang 5 to dock at the Hambantota port, raising fears in India and the US about China’s increasing maritime presence in the strategic Indian Ocean region.
There were apprehensions in New Delhi about the possibility of the vessel’s tracking systems attempting to snoop on Indian installations while being on its way to the Sri Lankan port. The ties between India and Sri Lanka had come under strain after Colombo gave permission to a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine to dock in one of its ports in 2014.