In an unusual move, Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary has asked the Chinese Embassy here to “educate” a Chinese private company dredging a reservoir in Hambantota, the hometown of the ruling Rajapaksa family, not to wear military-style camouflage uniforms in future.
Raising concerns, the Sri Lankan media recently reported that Chinese personnel wearing uniforms that are very much similar to those worn by soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army, have been seen roaming at a civil operation to dredge and clean the ‘Tissamaharama Wewa’ in the southern part of the island nation.
Taking note of the reports, Sri Lanka’s Defence Secretary General (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne queried with the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Sri Lanka and urged the mission to “educate the respective employer to refrain its employees from wearing the controversial military-style camouflage uniforms in future.”
“The Ministry of Defence also informed the local private company to avoid the recurrence of such action henceforth,” it said in a press release on Tuesday.
Gunaratne has also directed the Southern Province Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police to thwart any further attempt of such nature, the Ministry of Defence said.
The Chinese embassy has “affirmed” that the said employees are not members of China’s People’s Liberation Army and it is the respective overseas company’s “overall uniform entitled to the staffers”, the press release said.
The main Opposition had queried the presence of foreigners working in the Tissamaharama lake conservation wearing clothes similar to the Chinese military uniform.
The Director of Archaeology claimed that his department had not sanctioned the slit cleaning of the lake where these foreigners had been sighted wearing the alleged Chinese military uniforms.
The government spokesman and minister Keheliya Rambukwella on Tuesday said that the police’s Criminal Investigations Department (CID) and the military intelligence had investigated the claims and found that the allegations of the Chinese military uniforms were not true.
The clothes were similar to those worn by private security agencies in China and not the Chinese military, he said, adding “this is like an overall worn at mechanical garages, not a uniform”.
The Chinese embassy here, responding to local media criticism last week, tweeted with a picture saying “Isn’t verification and fact-checking a must in the world of journalism? Clickbait or misinformation might only damage a media’s credibility”.
The embassy picture from online retail site Alibaba suggested the uniforms were freely available online for purchase.
The local media responded to the Chinese embassy’s tweet by saying that the Sri Lankan law dictates that anyone who is not a member of the armed forces is prohibited from wearing any outfit similar to a military uniform.
Hambantota is the home of the ruling Rajapaksa family, which is one of the most prominent families in the country’s politics. It is a rural land-owning family from the village Giruwapattuwa in the southern district of Hambantota. The family also owns paddy fields and coconut plantations in the district.
Sri Lanka, in recent years, has carried out various development projects with an estimated USD 8-billion in loans.
China views Sri Lanka as a key player in Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and has provided billions of dollars in loans for key infrastructure projects in the country over the years.
Critics say the Chinese-funded infrastructure projects are not financially viable and that Colombo will face difficulties in repaying the loans.
Loans from China to build the strategic Hambantota Port have been cited by experts as an example of the debt-trap diplomacy, after Sri Lanka defaulted and subsequently gave a 99-year lease to Beijing in 2017 in place of payment.