Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has denied the oft-cited claim that Sri Lanka was ceding control of strategically vital ports to Chinese control and said he didn’t believe the country was falling into a debt trap caused by high-interest Chinese loans, CNBC reported.
“We are dealing with China. There are a fair amount of Chinese investments. There are China loans…I can’t see it as a threat,” Wickremesinghe told CNBC.
Sri Lanka and China have agreed to a 99-year lease of the southern Hambantota port. That underlines China’s growing strategic and commercial influence in the Indian Ocean region, and has caused increasing anxiety in neighboring India and the broader region.
For one, Japan wants Hambantota port to be “free of military activities,” Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said last month, according to a report by the Press Trust of India.
“We don’t foresee any issues by looking at this from an economic project, as an economic investment,” Wickremesinghe said. “Sri Lanka has been unaligned and have stayed that way since 1948.”
Sri Lanka’s opposition, led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is capitalizing on economic hardship, mobilizing supporters to pressure the government into holding early polls. Wickremesinghe, however, said he “can’t see an early election.”
He claimed his government inherited debt racked up through the mismanagement of the prior administration. “We took over the government and stabilized the economy … they ran away, we were the only ones left.” (Colombo Gazette)