Sri Lanka rejects China's request to dock submarine in Colombo

12 May 2017

Sri Lanka has rejected China's request to dock one of its submarines in Colombo harbour some time this month, two senior Lankan government officials said on Thursday, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed is in the island nation in the evening for a two-day official visit.

Sri Lanka last allowed a Chinese submarine to dock in Colombo in October 2014, which triggered fierce opposition from India, which is concerned about growing Chinese activity in Lanka and across the Indian Ocean region.

The Sri Lankan official, who preferred to remain anonymous, said Colombo was "unlikely" to agree to China's request to dock the submarine at any time, given India's concerns.

Besides political issues, there are commercial considerations as well involved in Sri Lanka's move, as more than 70 per cent of the trans-shipment in Colombo port comes from India.

A defence ministry official, meanwhile, said China's request to dock this month had been rejected while a decision on a further docking had been postponed.

"It might happen later," a Reuters report quoted the official as saying, adding that China's request to use the port around 16 May came "sometime back".

Chinese embassy sources in Colombo confirmed that China was still awaiting a response to its request for permission for the submarine port call.

China, looking for investment avenues for its huge surpluses, has invested heavily in Sri Lanka in recent years, in airports, roads, railways and ports, aggravating India's concerns of Chinese meddling in the Indian Ocean region.

Sri Lanka, despite the Liberation Tiger issue, has traditionally been the closest economic partner of India.

Sri Lanka is finalising a plan to lease 80 per cent of its loss-making Hambantotata port to China for 99 years, but the deal has been delayed because of opposition from trade unions.

The Sri Lankan government also wants to establish a petroleum hub with the help of India in the eastern port city of Trincomalee, where Lanka IOC, the subsidiary of Indian Oil Corporation, handles 15 out of 99 oil tanks.

Also, India and Sri Lanka are bound by a 1987 accord that states that the two countries would not allow their respective territories to be used for activities deemed prejudicial to each other's unity, integrity and security.

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