Sri Lanka’s decision to relocate a naval base to the China-controlled port-city of Hambantota has sent a veiled message about Beijing’s ambitions to other global powers. “Sri Lanka has already informed China that Hambantota port cannot be used for military purposes,” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s office said in a statement, adding, “Since the security of the port will be under the control of Sri Lanka Navy, there is no need to fear,” the statement said.
While the US, India and Japan have raised concerns that Beijing might use the port as a naval base, the Sri Lankan government and the Chinese embassy in Colombo have denied so and cited a clause in the agreement for the port deal that it cannot be used for military purposes, according to Reuters report. “The Hambantota port project was to help Sri Lanka achieve its aim of becoming a logistics hub in the Indian Ocean, which was good for the country’s economic development and the region as a whole,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in Beijing
The significance of Hambantota: The base, currently in the tourist district of Galle, will be moved 125 km (80 miles) east along Sri Lanka’s southern coast to Hambantota, nearer to the main shipping route between Asia and Europe. The $1.5 billion deepwater port is likely to play a major role in China’s “Belt and Road” initiative and is under a 99-year lease to China Merchants Port Holdings at a cost of $1.12 billion, according to reports.
China’s growing expansion: Hambantota port project is part of China’s aggressive approach to strategically control and gain access to key military waterway and commercial routes. China has explored and invested heavily in Arctic Ocean, Baltic Sea and other faraway waterways from the mainland. It has been learnt that as of now China funds 35 ports. Among this, key ports are Gwadar, South China Sea Atolls, Seychelles, Walvis Bay, Sao Tome and Pricipe, Praeus and Djibouti.
Along with this, China’s “One Belt, One Road” initiative has covered up to up to 68 countries representing 65 per cent of the world’s population.