Sri Lanka defends China's expansion in Indian Ocean

Sri Lanka has defended China's increased naval presence in the Indian Ocean and rejected claims that it is a threat to regional power India, the defence ministry said Friday.

The ministry quoted its top official, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, saying that Colombo understood China's growing interest in the region and insisted that their bilateral cooperation was purely commercial.

"It is obvious that the safety and stability of the Indian Ocean is critical for China's energy security, and its increasing interest and increasing naval presence in this region is quite understandable," Rajapakse said.

Speaking at a maritime seminar at the southern port city of Galle on Thursday, Rajapakse noted that China was carrying out major infrastructure projects in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Maldives, Pakistan and at the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka.

Analysts have suggested that the moves are part of a Chinese policy to throw a so-called "string of pearls" -- or a circle of influence -- around India.

"Placing the Hambantota port within the paradigm of the "string of pearls" theory is not correct," he added in his speech, a copy of which was released to the media Friday.

Rajapakse, who is President Mahinda Rajapakse's brother, said it was natural for Chinese economic influence to increase with the country's rapid economic development.

"China has long been an exponent of economic cooperation, and it has been a generous and steadfast friend to many countries in this region, including Sri Lanka," he added.

India's new Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said earlier this week that India must "accept the new reality of China's presence" in its immediate neighbourhood, signalling a more pragmatic approach from New Delhi.

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