Sri Lanka says the Hambantota Port is not a ‘debt trap’ nor can it be used for military purposes by China.
“If anybody is saying that the Chinese government gave its money to put Sri Lanka into a ‘debt trap’, I don’t agree with that. It’s an absolutely wrong conclusion,” Karunasena Kodituwakku, the Ambassador of Sri Lanka to China, told CGTN’s The Point.
His comments came amid accusations from critics who said China is setting a “debt trap” for Sri Lanka with its southern port of Hambantota. The first phase of the Port’s construction was finished in 2010, with 85 percent of its cost funded by China.
Facing severe losses and a heavy debt burden, Sri Lanka entered into a 99-year lease agreement with China Merchant Ports Holdings (CMPH) to revitalize the Port. The handover was made last December.
“Of course, we have difficulties paying back… but I must say that the Chinese government assisted the government of Sri Lanka to build this project. It is up to the government of Sri Lanka to build on the basis of feasibility studies, then to make business decisions. The Chinese government (has) never asked to hand over the Port to the Chinese government or to the Chinese venture. It was a proposal that came from Sri Lanka, asking partnership from China,” he added.
As a response to media concerns that China is “militarizing” the Port, Kodituwakku pointed out that “in Sri Lanka’s case, from the very beginning, we have very clearly indicated to the Chinese side, it’s only an economic venture.” He said Sri Lanka does not allow anybody to interfere with the defense affairs of Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka decided to shift a naval base to Hambantota Port in July. Kodituwakku explained, “The security of Port Hambantota, the security of territorial coverage of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, is an entire matter for Sri Lankan security forces. China never asks us. We never offered it.”
Kodituwakku remains optimistic over the long-term prospects of the Port and the future of Sri Lanka’s role in an emerging Asia.
“Now Asia is becoming the most important part of the world in global development. The Indian Ocean is a center for Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Africa, and the Middle East, so the future potential in Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka being the center in the Indian Ocean, is huge,” he emphasized.