Sri Lankan government has signed a 70-year lease agreement with China Merchants Port Holdings on the development of the Hambantota Port, but it can be terminated any time, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said on the sidelines of 3rd Indian Ocean Conference which was held in Vietnam recently, according to Sri Lankan media reports..
Wickremesinghe has assured India that his government would not allow anything to take place in Sri Lanka that might adversely affect Indian national security.
The PM is quoted as having said: Hambantota harbour is a public-private partnership, the public part being the Sri Lanka Ports Authority and the private part being China Merchant. We firstly asked for two other Chinese firms but whoever offered, Chinese or non-Chinese, it was going to be for commercial shipping purpose. So now they have come in, they have paid their stake and they are putting in some additional money to develop the port. The joint venture has a 70-year lease but the government can at any time terminate it, if the government thinks it has to be done. The police will be there, the customs will be there and immigration will be there,” he said.
Wickremesinghe said that the government was also looking at developing a 15,000 acre industrial zone in Hambantota to lease out to developers as Bangladesh had done. He added that his government wanted India to get more involved in Sri Lanka and that he wanted India to develop Trincomalee, Mattala Airport, Kankesanthurai harbour and Palaly Airport. Palaly was used by the Indian Air Force when the Indian Peace Keeping Force had taken over the Northern Sri Lanka.
“But nothing will be allowed to be used for military purposes, but commercially yes. We also told the Chinese, the Japanese and others that there was an understanding between India and us that Indian territory will not be used for anything harmful to our security. Similarly, Sri Lankan territory will not be used for anything harmful to Indian security. So we are functioning within that framework.”