BEIJING (Reuters) - Sri Lanka would consider allowing Chinese naval ships to visit again but no request has been forthcoming yet, the country’s defense secretary said on Sunday.
Sri Lanka’s previous government had caused concern in India with its close ties to Beijing, including allowing Chinese submarines to dock.
New Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has unnerved China though with his re-examination of relations, including a $1.5-billion Chinese-invested “port city” project in the capital Colombo.
Visiting Beijing in February, Sri Lanka’s foreign minister said future visits by Chinese submarines were unlikely.
But Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi, who only took up his post last month, told Reuters in Beijing that he would give serious thought to new requests from China for naval ships to call, even if there are no plans currently.
“It has not come to my table yet. If it comes I’ll give it due consideration. If it comes in the right track we’ll consider it seriously,” he said on the sidelines of a military forum.
“If it is really interesting and worthwhile, sometimes we do combined operations and exercises with military vessels from around the world, no discrimination.”
China has built a seaport and airport in Sri Lanka’s south, raising fears it is seeking influence in a country with which India has traditionally had deep ties.
China’s defense minister told the head of the Sri Lankan navy in June he wanted to ensure a “continuous and stable” development of military ties.
Hettiarachchi said his government was just trying to make sure it was being transparent in its relations with China, and that military ties should remain strong.
“There was a complaint about the previous regime about transparency but I think we are more transparent and our relations are going to be stronger in times to come.”
(This story corrects title to defence secretary not minister)
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry