India expects Sri Lanka to be mindful of its “security concerns and sensitivities”, the external affairs ministry said today while reacting to the Sri Lankan government handing over the Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease last week. Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar also made it clear that India’s relation with Sri Lanka “stand on its own and is not dependent on our relations with any third country.” He said India was confident of the strength of enduring ties with Sri Lanka which were deep-rooted and multidimensional. “We continue to take up with Sri Lanka issues related to the security concerns in the region and expect that our Sri Lankan friends will keep in mind our security concerns and sensitivities,” he said. Two Chinese firms – Hambantota International Port Group (HIPG) and Hambantota International Port Services (HIPS) managed by the China Merchants Port Holdings Company (CMPort) – and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority will own the port and the investment zone around it.
The port, overlooking the Indian Ocean, is expected to play a key role in China’s Belt and Road initiative, which will link ports and roads between China and Europe. In order to allay India’s security concerns over the Chinese Navy’s presence in Sri Lanka, Wickremesinghe had earlier ruled out the possibility of the strategic port being used as a “military base” by any foreign country. Answering another query regarding reports of Maldives signing a free trade agreement with China, he said India expects that as a close and friendly neighbour, Maldives will be sensitive to its concerns in keeping with its ‘India First’ policy. Kumar also said that India attaches the highest importance to its relations with Maldives. Noting that India has seen reports about the Maldives- China agreement and the reports have also alluded to the manner in which the FTA was passed by the Majlis, he said it will not be appropriate for him to comment on the contents.
He also said India was committed to supporting democracy, development and stability in Maldives. On the visit of Maldives President to China, he said, “We feel that as long as the development of bilateral relations between the two countries contribute to the peace and stability in the region, I think we should welcome that.