(This version of the story amends dateline to COLOMBO)
COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka has rejected China’s request to dock one of its submarines in Colombo this month, two senior government officials said on Thursday as the Indian prime minister landed in the island nation.
Sri Lanka last allowed a Chinese submarine to dock in the capital of Colombo in October 2014, a move that triggered fierce opposition from its northern neighbor India, which worries about growing Chinese activity in a country it has long viewed as part of its area of influence.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Sri Lanka on Thursday for a two-day official visit.
A senior Sri Lankan government official said China’s request to dock one of its submarines in Colombo this month had been rejected. He said Sri Lanka was “unlikely” to agree to China’s request to dock the submarine at any time, given India’s concerns. The official asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The second official, at the defense ministry, also said China’s request to dock this month had been rejected but that a decision on a further docking had been postponed.
“It might happen later,” the second official told Reuters, adding that China had requested approval to use the port around May 16 “sometime back”.
A source close to the Chinese embassy in Colombo confirmed that China had requested permission for the submarine visit but was still awaiting a response.
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Friday referred questions to the Chinese Defense Ministry, which has yet to comment.
“What I can say is that China and Sri Lanka have always had a tradition of friendly relations,” Geng told reporters.
Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is expected in Beijing this weekend to attend a summit on China’s new Silk Road plan.
China has invested heavily in Sri Lanka in recent years, funding airports, roads, railways and ports, unsettling India, traditionally the closest economic partner of the island nation of 21 million people.
More than 70 percent of the trans-shipment in Colombo port comes from India.
Sri Lanka is finalizing a plan to lease 80 percent of its loss-making Hambantota port to China for 99 years, but the deal has been delayed because of opposition from trade unions.
Sri Lanka also wants to establish a petroleum hub with the help of India in the eastern port city of Trincomalee, where Lanka IOC, the subsidiary of Indian Oil Corporation, handles 15 of 99 oil tanks.
A 1987 accord between India and Sri Lanka provides that their territories not be used for activities deemed prejudicial to each other’s unity, integrity and security.
Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Tommy Wilkes and Nick Macfie
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