BEIJING: In a move apparently aimed at allaying India's concerns, the new Sri Lankan government today said it will not allow Chinese submarines to dock in its ports while acknowledging that such a docking did take place coinciding with the Japanese Prime Minister's visit last year.
"I really do not know what circumstances lead to some submarines coming to the port of Colombo on the very day the Japanese Prime Minister (Shinzo Abe) was visiting Sri Lanka," Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told reporters here, disclosing for the first time that the docking coincided with Abe's Colombo visit.
"But we will ensure that such incidents from whatever quarters does not happen during our tenure," said Samaraweera, who held extensive talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
During his talks with Li and Wang, Samaraweera discussed a host of issues including concerns over high interest rate on the about USD five billion Chinese loans as well as his government's aim to pursue a balanced foreign policy.
Analysts say that the timing of the Chinese submarines could be significant considering volatile relations between China and Japan especially over the disputed islands in the South China Sea. Abe visited Colombo on September 7 last year when then president Mahinda Rajapaksa was in power.
China had defended their docking, stating that there was "nothing unusual" as it is common international practice for warships to stop for refuelling at ports abroad.
It had said the submarines were part of the fleet of warships deployed in anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
Concerns were raised in India over the docking of Chinese submarines in Lankan ports.
While answering questions on concerns in India over pro-China policy of the previous government, Samaraweera, who visited India first after taking charge followed by the new President Maithripala Sirisena, said his government's foreign policy is to bring Sri Lanka "back to the centre".
"Back to centre meant I don't think it has any bearing on Sri Lanka-China relations. It will remain as ever. We will strengthen relations further with China as we are doing with the rest of the world. Back to the centre I meant a more balanced foreign policy," he explained.
Significantly, Samaraweera also said Sri Lanka is concerned about the high interest rates for Chinese loans to build various projects which he said amounted to USD five billion, including the USD 1.5 billion for the Colombo Port City project.
"We do have some concerns about what you have mentioned," he said adding that a high-level Sri Lankan delegation will visit China after the planned visit of Sirisena on March 26 and "discuss these loans and any amendments we may be suggesting."