China has said the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka was developed with a “win-win spirit” and “equal-footed consultation” with the host nation after the island nation’s newly-elected president called the deal a “mistake” and should be renegotiated, a media report said on Saturday. Earlier this week, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said giving away the Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease was a “mistake” by the previous government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena.
“The deal has to be renegotiated. Giving a small loan for investment is a different thing but giving a strategic important economic harbour is not acceptable. That we should have controlled,” Rajapaksa said in Colombo.
Responding to an email query by the Daily Mirror newspaper, the Spokesperson’s Office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing said, “Our cooperation, including the project of Hambantota Port, are based on equal-footed consultation and win-win spirit.”
The spokesperson’s office said the project aims to help Sri Lanka to leverage the country’s own advantage for better development. “China would like to work with Sri Lanka to build the Hambantota Port into a new shipping hub in the Indian Ocean, which will further boost local economic and social development,” the statement added.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson from the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, Luo Chong, told the newspaper that the Hambantota Port was owned and controlled by Sri Lanka and important matters were handled by the island nation. “It is a joint venture and any approvals including calling of ships at the Hambantota Port, is entirely Sri Lanka’s decision,” Luo said.
China, which acquired Hambantota port in 2017 as a debt swap, has been ramping up its ties with Sri Lanka and has expanded its naval presence in the Indian Ocean with an established logistics base in Djibouti.
Rajapaksa, a former defence secretary who is credited with ending the country’s long civil war, was sworn in as the island nation’s new president on November 18, a day after he won the closely fought presidential election in island nation. Even though considered pro-China, Rajapaksa has said he wants Sri Lanka to be a “neutral country” and work with all the countries.