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 defense officials arrived in Sri Lanka 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 April 10, 2023.
“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 that 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.
Earlier in February this year, a top-level US defence delegation led by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Jedidiah Royal was in Sri Lanka for discussions with key security officials on matters related to regional security, reforms in Sri Lankan military and maritime domain awareness.
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.
In March, the IMF approved a USD 3 billion bailout programme to help Sri Lanka overcome its economic crisis and catalyse financial support from other development partners, a move welcomed by Colombo as a “historic milestone” in the critical period.