ECONOMYNEXT – Both Sri Lanka and China should do more in defence cooperation that would serve the stability and prosperity of the Indian Ocean region, Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong said on Sunday (09) following an official visit by China’s foreign minister.
Zhenhong’s statement came soon after Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi left the island nation after a two-day visit that saw the signing of four memoranda of understanding between the two countries, excluding any defence pact.
“Defence progression and exchanges is a very important part in bilateral relations,” Zhenhong told a group of journalists late on Sunday.
“I think we (China and Sri Lanka) should and could do more in this field.”
“I believe cooperation in this field, we not only serve the common interests of China and Sri Lanka on sovereignty, security, and stability, but also you will have this region to keep stability and prosperity (sp).”
The statement is likely to make the regional power India nervous along with the United States which has been monitoring China’s activities in the Indian Ocean under Beijing’s One Belt One Road initiative, defence analysts say.
Already India has raised concerns over China’s increasing presence in its backyard of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has already handed over the 1.4 billion US dollar Chinese funded and built Hambantota port in the deep south of the island as a part of a debt-to-equity deal in 2018. China is eying a 15,000-acre investment zone around the port.
China has also reclaimed a 269-acre land next to Sri Lanka’s main Colombo port where a state-owned Chinese firm is building the Port City. It has already invested 1.5 billion US dollars in the project.
India accounts for over 70 percent of the transhipment at the Colombo port where China also has a terminal on a 25-year lease basis. To counterbalance Chinese presence, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s administration has given a majority stake at the West Container Terminal (WCT) to India’s Adani group, a privately owned firm, for a 850 million dollar investment.
Sri Lanka is in the process of canceling power system installation projects in three islands off Sri Lanka’s northern city of Jaffna within 50 km from South Indian coast, which prompted China to say the move was due to “security concern of a third party”.
Defence analysts say Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea have been cited by countries that are raising concerns over increasing Chinese presence in Sri Lanka.
Officials from the current ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna (SLPP) have told the EconomyNext in the past that indirect backing of India and the United States helped oust the previous government of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2015 after Sri Lanka gave permission to Chinese nuclear submarines to enter Colombo port premises in October 2014.
Officially both India and the US have denied their involvement in toppling Rajapaksa’s previous government.
China has said all its projects in Sri Lanka are commercial in nature and has denied any military involvement. (Colombo/Jan10/2022)