Sri Lanka says no to Chinese submarine visit

COLOMBO • Sri Lanka refused permission for a Chinese submarine to dock at Colombo next week after similar visits in 2014 angered regional superpower India, a top defence official has said.

The Chinese authorities had sought clearance for a port call at Colombo, where a Chinese state-owned company operates a mega container terminal, the official said, requesting not to be named.

"They have asked for permission, but we have said no," the official told Agence France-Presse on Thursday. "It is a very sensitive matter." He did not elaborate.

The rejection came as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was visiting Sri Lanka as chief guest for the country's celebration of Vesak Day, which marks the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha.

Yesterday, Mr Modi declared his desire for a "quantum jump" in relations with Sri Lanka, as New Delhi jostles Beijing for influence in the island nation.

The request for the Chinese submarine visit was for next week, after Mr Modi's departure yesterday evening, official sources said.

There was no immediate comment from the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, but two submarine calls at the Colombo harbour in 2014 had reportedly angered India, which considered them as undermining its security.

New Delhi traditionally regards its smaller neighbour as being within its sphere of influence.

It was said to have been worried about Beijing's growing influence on Colombo under the regime of former strongman president Mahinda Rajapakse.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena came to power in January 2015, promising to loosen ties with China after a decade of hefty funding by Beijing under his predecessor.

However, analysts have noted that Beijing's influence was on the rise again as Colombo struggles to find alternative sources of much- needed foreign capital.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2017, with the headline 'Sri Lanka says no to Chinese submarine visit'. Print Edition | Subscribe