Bengaluru: Sri Lanka foreign secretary Jayanath Colombage has confessed that his country’s decision to lease Hambantota port to China for 99 years was a mistake. 

He also added that Sri Lanka would employ “India First” policy always though it would like to be neutral. 

He said, “President (Gotabaya Rajapaksa) has stated that in terms of strategic security, we will follow an ‘India first’ policy. We cannot afford to be a strategic security threat to India and we don’t have to be. We need to benefit from India. The president has clearly said that you are our first priority as far as security is concerned but I have to deal with other players for economic prosperity.”

It might be recalled that foreign minister S Jaishankar had recently reached out to his counterpart Dinesh Gunawardane after the Rajapaksa team returned to government in a resounding victory.

A note on Hambantota leased to China: 

Last year, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had made it clear he wants to take back the Hambantota port leased to China. 

National interest was paramount on his mind. 

It might be recalled that former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had in 2017 changed the terms, saying it would be difficult to pay the loans taken to build the project. He agreed to lease the port for 99 years to a venture led by China Merchants Port Holdings Co. in return for $1.1 billion. That helped ease the Chinese part of the debt burden raised to build the port. 

Ajith Nivard Cabraal, a former central bank governor and an economic adviser to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had said, “We would like them to give it back. The ideal situation would be to go back to status quo. We pay back the loan in due course in the way that we had originally agreed without any disturbance at all,” as quoted by Business Standard.