Chung puts to rest rumors of a military base in Sri Lanka
Rejecting the media speculations, the US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Julie J Chung has said that Washington has no intention of building a military base in Sri Lanka and hailed it as an “important country” in the strategically vital Indo-Pacific region. Chung’s comments came weeks after senior US defence officials arrived here on two special aircraft of the United States Air Force. The visit in February sparked speculation that the US was planning to set up a military base in Sri Lanka.
Chung put the speculation to rest in an interview with the Daily Mirror newspaper on Monday. “In terms of the military base, I have said this repeatedly, we have no intention of building a military base (in Sri Lanka),” she said. Chung also said Washington has “no intention of reviving or reassessing the SOFA Agreement.”
The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was signed in 1995. These are multilateral or bilateral agreements that establish the framework under which the US military personnel operate in a foreign country and how the domestic laws of the foreign jurisdiction apply towards the US personnel in that country.
Chung hailed Sri Lanka as an important country in the Indo-Pacific region. “We want to see a stable, prosperous, democratic Indo-Pacific. That means countries that think about their sovereignty, think about a rules-based international order, and freedom of navigation in the open seas,” she said, amid China making a determined attempt to step up military ties with Sri Lanka.
“These are all issues and values that are important not only to the US and Sri Lanka but to all countries in the region,” she added. The US, India, and several other world powers have been talking about the need to ensure a free, open, and thriving Indo-Pacific. China is engaged in hotly contested territorial disputes in the South and East China Seas. Beijing has also made substantial progress in militarizing its man-made islands in the South China Sea over the past few years.
Sri Lanka is a key part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a long-term plan to fund and build infrastructure linking China to the rest of the world. But China’s unproductive projects in Sri Lanka, including the Hambantota port, which Beijing took over on a 99-year lease in 2017 as a debt swap, have come under sharp criticism.
In March, the IMF approved a USD 3 billion bailout programme to help Sri Lanka overcome its economic crisis and catalyze financial support from other development partners, a move welcomed by Colombo as a “historic milestone” in the critical period.
Sri Lanka was hit by an unprecedented financial crisis in 2022, the worst since its independence from Britain in 1948, due to a severe paucity of foreign exchange reserves, sparking political turmoil in the country that led to the ouster of the all-powerful Rajapaksa family.
[with PTI inputs]
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Selling soul to stay afloat. What a worst condition. Supposed to top tourist destination in 1970s now a step away from Pakistan.