Amid concerns over China's 'debt trap diplomacy', US lawmakers visit Sri Lanka
Amid the global concern over China's 'debt trap diplomacy', a bipartisan group of influential US lawmakers visited Sri Lanka to gauge the ground-level situation.
Cash-rich China has invested millions of dollars in Sri Lanka's infrastructure since the end of a brutal civil war in 2009.
Under a pact with Sri Lanka, China recently gained lease of the strategic Hambantota port for 99 years.
Sri Lankan politicians had said that the deal, valued at US $1.1 billion, was necessary to chip away at the debt.
Congressman Mac Thornberry, Chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, said: "While I share the hope of many that these projects will one day benefit the Sri Lankan people, I was struck by what one Sri Lankan official told me: 'one cannot assume that China's motives are entirely innocent'".
Led by Thornberry, the Congressional delegation including Congressmen Henry Cuellar, Vicky Hartzler and Carol Shea-Porter concluded a two-day visit to Sri Lanka.
The delegation toured the Port of Colombo, a critical strategic location in the Indian Ocean, and extensive infrastructure projects financed by loans from China and managed by Chinese companies.
It is clear that the strategic value of Sri Lanka is not lost on China, Thornberry said.
"The Chinese government is providing an astounding amount of resources, often in the form of loans, to projects on the island," he said.
In Colombo, the delegation met Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and Opposition Leader R Sampanthan along with Tamil National Alliance leaders.
During their meetings, the delegation emphasised the shared values of democracy, rule of law and freedom of the seas.
They encouraged the Sri Lankan leaders to continue vital constitutional reforms and stability efforts.
"The American relationship with Sri Lanka goes back to hundreds of years, and Congress is committed to deepening it going forward. Sri Lanka is a vital hub in the Indian Ocean, one that is key to keeping the lanes of commerce and security free and open.
"One cannot overstate how important it is that a prosperous, stable democracy hold this strategic ground. Sri Lanka has come a long way in the past few years, but they have much hard work ahead of them," Thornberry said.
America's commitment to their progress - from increased military-to-military exchanges, development aid and governance projects - is vital at this important time, he added.
Recently, an influential US think-tank expert warned that the increasing Chinese economics of "debt trap" will likely result in Beijing gaining greater access to several key countries around India.
Richard D Fisher, Senior fellow at International Assessment and Strategy Centre, told members of the House Select Intelligence Committee during a hearing on 'China's Worldwide Military Expansion' that the Chinese economic and 'debt trap' pressures will likely result in China gaining greater access to bases in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and perhaps the Maldives.