Colombo [Sri Lanka], March 22 (ANI): Sri Lanka's ambassador to China Palitha Kohona on Monday dismissed suggestions that the country is planning to extend a 99-year lease granted to Beijing to run the Hambantota port.
The Hambantota project has been a focus for critics who have accused China of using dept-trap diplomacy to boost its geopolitical influence around the world.
In an interview, Kohona said that his country will "never be an unsinkable aircraft carrier posing a threat to anyone else", reported South China Morning Post (SCMP).
Hambantota's location at the southern tip of Sri Lanka makes it a potential key maritime hub in the Indian Ocean. Colombo had to hand over the running of the port in 2017 after it was unable to repay Chinese loans used to develop it.
"If there is a negotiation, it's very secretive and nobody would say it to you. They are whispering to each other so that nobody else hears it," Kohona said.
According to SCMP, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena had earlier said that the original port had a provision to extend the term of the lease by a further 99 years.
Amid concerns that Sri Lanka would be unable to meet repayments on foreign capital due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kohona said that Sri Lanka was not falling into a debt trap.
"I'm saying very responsibly and without any reservation that Sri Lanka's debt to China is less than 10 per cent of our entire debt and we can't get into a trap. The rest of our debt is owed to multilateral institutions, to Wall Street and to others," he said.
Sri Lanka recently negotiated a USD 500 million loan from China Development Bank and a USD 180 million loan from the Beijing-headquartered Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). (ANI)