India right in opting out of China's OBOR project: Sri Lankan minister

17 May 2017


Sri Lanka, which attended the just-concluded Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, seems to have veered round to India's views on the grand project, as the thrust of the initiative is on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor that passes through Occupied Kashmir - an affront on India's sovereignty,

While Sri Lanka is very much a part of the ancient Silk Road, the country has concerns about its new avatar – the Belt and Road Initiative – and says India's concerns on "sovereignty and territorial integrity" over the OBOR project are real and that it is difficult for New Delhi to accept the $50-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as it goes through the "heart of Indian interests".

But for this, India, which skipped the high-profile meeting, would have joined "very happily" in the One Belt and One Road (OBOR) initiative of China, said Sarath Amanugama, Sri Lanka's minister on special assignment.

"Unfortunately, the issue is going through the heart of Indian interests. If it was some uncontested region, India would have negotiated its way out. Here, especially the Kashmir issue getting dragged into it, makes it difficult for India to be flexible," Amanugama, who accompanied Lankan Prime Minister Wickramasinghe to the two-day forum, said.

He said India, China and Sri Lanka were very much part of the ancient Silk Road route as the Chinese Buddhist scholars like Faxian visited both India and Sri Lanka leading to big discoveries of Buddhist relics in the island nation.

"(Chinese) President Xi Jinping has emphasised connectivity. These countries were connected many centuries ago. This will link up these countries on certain rational basis. Once the regional problems are resolved, then India has to play big role in the initiative," he said, adding, "India anyway has to play big role because you cannot think of a belt and road without going over and close to India."

While the two-day conference in Beijing brought together leaders from 29 countries, India opted out of the meeting due to its sovereignty concerns over the $50-billion CPEC, which goes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Besides Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the conference was also attended by India's other neighbours, excluding Bhutan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, representative of the US government and several other leaders, besides heads of UN, World Bank and IMF, attended the OBOR summit.

While the Sri Lankan leader reportedly took part in the discussions in the roundtable meeting yesterday, Amunagama sought to reassure India saying that Sri Lanka will not permit any foreign military operations in its port by any country, including China.

Confirming reports that recent Chinese requests for docking of its submarines was declined, he said, "we denied them permission."

"Lanka's position is that our harbours and ports are for commercial operations. All other countries have no strategic interests. We are equidistant from everyone," he said.

The docking of a Chinese submarine in Colombo harbour in 2014, when Mahinda Rajapaksa was the president, had invited India'scriticism.

"China, India, US and all other countries, they cannot come into our territorial waters without the consent of the Sri Lankan government," Amanugama said.

He said the Hambantota harbour, which Sri Lanka plans to hand over to China under debt equity scheme, will also function under Sri Lankan Port Authority (SLPA).

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