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Praveen CV asked: How Sri Lanka’s denial of Chinese ‘string of pearls’ policy and its claim that Chinese presence in Hambantota harbour is for economic or developmental purpose is to be viewed?

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  • Sarabjeet Singh Parmar replies: The Chinese engagement, presently, is based mainly on infrastructure development and improvement of diplomatic ties, thereby availing of the facilities available for extending what could be called its “Look West Policy”. As far as Hambantota being part of the string of pearls is concerned, it would depend on how the Chinese use it and to what extent Sri Lanka would permit it to be used. In this regard, the establishment of a Chinese military base in the port of Hambantota is far fetched and in today’s scenario extra-regional presence and economic strangleholds does not seem realistic. The pressures that a nation would have to face after inviting a foreign military presence would be tremendous. The establishment of a Chinese military base would imply a form of alliance that most nations, especially small island nations like Sri Lanka, would like to avoid. There are several economic and security implications involved both at the regional and wider international level.

    However, the port of Hambantota would be an asset for the Chinese as it would be a major facility for refuelling and resupply of Chinese vessels half way along the SLOCs en route from the Malacca Straits to the choke points in northwest Indian Ocean Region (IOR), namely the Gulf of Aden, Bab-el-Mandeb, the Suez Canal and the Straits of Hormuz. Hambantota would also grant the Chinese the ability to turn south and enter the Indian Ocean.

    Therefore, Hambantota, as of now, could be viewed as a stepping stone for the Chinese to increase their presence in the IOR. A lot would depend on how the relations between Sri Lanka and India either grow or diminish in view of increased Chinese economic engagements in the region.