Navy Chief: Sri Lanka’s relationship with China not at India’s expense


by Shamindra Ferdinando

Vice Admiral Perera

Navy Commander Vice Admiral Jayantha Perera yesterday stressed that the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) would not cause hostilities among countries.

Such a course of action would be inimical to all countries including Sri Lanka, VA Perera said in an exclusive interview with The Island. "There is absolutely no need for Sri Lanka to pursue a strategy hostile to India or any other country," he said.

The navy chief was responding to allegations that GoSL had aligned itself with the People’s Republic of China by accommodating nuclear-powered Chinese submarines at the port of Colombo in spite of India’s serious concerns.

VA Perera said: "The Chinese submarine Changchen 02 accompanied by another vessel Changxingdao reached Colombo on Sept. 7 for refuelling and crew refreshment. The vessels left on Sept. 13. They were on their way to the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia. The same vessels arrived at the Colombo port on Oct. 31. They were to leave today (Nov 5)."

The navy chief stressed that contrary to claims being made in some quarters, the Chinese submarine wasn’t a nuclear powered one on some clandestine mission. The Janes could shed light on the vessel, he said.

Responding to a query, VA Perera said that the growing relations between Indo-Lanka navies reflected the strong bilateral relationship between the South-east Asian neighbours. The Indo-Lanka ties had received a further boost consequent to his recent visit (Oct. 26-30) to India on the invitation of new Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Admiral R.K. Dhowan. VA Perera was accompanied by his wife, Shalika, he added.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, too, visited New Delhi, separately.

VA Perera dismissed suggestions that India had called for urgent talks due to the Chinese submarine visit.

Admiral Dhowan succeeded Admiral Devendra Joshi last August, about a month after VA Perera had taken command at the navy.

Having received a guard of honour at the South Block and being personally welcomed by Admiral Dhowan, they had the opportunity to discuss ways and means of strengthening cooperation between the two friendly navies in the key areas of training, operations and maritime domain awareness, VA Perera said.

VA Perera also met the Principal Staff Officers of the Indian Navy and called on the Indian Minister of Defence Arun Jaitley, the Chief of the Army Staff of the Indian Army General Dalbir Singh and the Vice Chief of the Air Staff of the Indian Air Force, Air Marshal RK Sharma.

The navy chief said that during his visit to New Delhi, the India media had raised two questions as regards what they called the Chinese military presence as well Chinese submarines docking at the Colombo Port. VA Perera said that there had never been a permanent Chinese military presence, in Sri Lanka, though during the conflict, representatives of many countries had visited Sri Lanka. The acquisition of a range of armaments from different countries to fight terrorists during such visits was almost routine, the navy chief said.

Successive governments acquired weapons including artillery, gun boats, armoured personnel carriers, transport aircraft and assault rifles etc., from China.

VA Perera said that since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009, China as well as India had launched some major projects in Sri Lanka.

Responding to another query, VA Perera said that India remained a key defence partner with ongoing bilateral engagements, such as training exercises at different levels. "And there were trilateral engagements such as Coast Guard exercise involving India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. The latest trilateral exercise codenamed DOSTI XII (Oct 28-31) was conducted in the seas off Male."

Recollecting the role played by Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) acquired and loaned by India during eelam war IV, the navy chief said that India was in the process of building two more OPVs for the SLN.

He expressed confidence in what he called naval diplomacy in promoting the post-war image of Sri Lanka. The forthcoming Galle Dialogue, brainchild of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s brainchild, was meant to enhance maritime relations among regional as well as global players. The navy chief said that the Galle Dialogue had gradually attracted many countries since its inception in 2010 with nearly 40 countries scheduled to attend in this year’s edition in early December.

A despicable attempt was also being made to portray the Colombo Port as being mainly used by Chinese vessels, the Navy Chief said. According to him, since 2010, 206 warships belonging to different nations have visited Sri Lanka. Among the countries which had utilized facilities here were Russia, America, China, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, France, Italy and Iran.

An Iranian submarine docked in Colombo last year. It was accompanied by two ships.

The navy chief said that Sri Lanka always believed in regional stability. "We’ll do whatever possible to ensure a peaceful environment desired by all countries."

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