Colombo, March 20: The Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena told the visiting Chinese Defense Minister and State Councilor, Gen.Chang Wanquan, that the pacts which Sri Lanka is to sign with China should not harm to “the pride, independence and national security of Sri Lanka.”
Sirisena’s assertive remark assumes significance in the context of the raging controversy over the 80 % stake to be given to a Chinese state-owned company in the Hambantota port in south Sri Lanka for 99 years.
The proposal to grant of 15,000 acres to establish an Economic Zone in the port’s hinterland has also drawn flak.
The Joint Opposition led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa considers the port deal to be a “sell out” of a strategic national asset to a foreign country and wants the Sri Lanka Ports Authority to have the majority stake and control.
The Minister of Ports, Arjuna Ranatunga, however has proposed a modified 60-40 distribution of the stake instead of 80-20. Recently, the government proposed a 60-40 divide ,10 years after the transfer of the port to the joint Sino-Lankan company. The government has also stipulated that it will have control over any military activity in the port making it difficult for the Chinese to use it for military purposes.
While underlying the importance of maintaining the “pride, independence and security of Sri Lanka”, President Sirisena told the Chinese Defense Minister that he trusts that China will continue to provide the required training for the Sri Lankan security forces.
The President thanked China for the support given by it for the national security of Sri Lanka, especially the help it rendered during the recent war against separatists in the North and East of the country.
On his part, Gen, Chang Wanquan said that a strong foundation has been built for the betterment of the economy, society and the people of Sri Lanka under President Sirisena and that China’s objective is to build and strengthen a long term relationship with Sri Lanka.
The Chinese Defense Minister had detailed discussions on defense matters with the State Minister of Defense, Ruwan Wijewardene. The President is the Defense Minister. Gen.Chang held talks with Defense Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi. On Tuesday, Gen.Chang will interact with the Chiefs of the army ,air force and the navy, on a wide range of defense matters especially maritime security ,which is of immediate concern to China in the face challenges from Japan and the US, and lately, India too.
Gen.Chang invited the Sri Lankan State Minister of Defense Wijewardene to visit China.
The Chinese Defense Minister, who has come with a strong 20-member defense team, was to make this trip in April but it was brought forward apparently because of the heated controversy over the Hambantota port.
Meanwhile, the US navy’s Seventh Fleet had sent a ship to Hambantota for rescue and relief exercises with the Sri Lankan, Japanese and Australian navies. The Japanese navy is to send its largest warship to Colombo in July, and the Indian naval survey ship INS Darshak is to survey the area around Hambantota port in April.
(The featured picture at the top shows The Chinese Defense Minister Gen.Chang Wanquan with the Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena)