Days after Sri Lanka's new President Gotabaya Rajapaksa called the Hambantota Port lease agreement with China a "mistake" and said it should be renegotiated, China in a statement said the cooperation between the two countries was based on "equal-footed consultation and win-win spirit".
Responding to an email query by the Daily Mirror, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, "Our cooperation, including the project of Hambantota Port, is based on equal-footed consultation and win-win spirit. It aims to help Sri Lanka to leverage the country's own advantage for better development.
"China would like to work with Sri Lanka to build the Hambantota Port into a new shipping hub in the Indian Ocean, which will further boost local economic and social development."
A spokesperson from the Chinese Embassy in Colombo, Luo Chong, told the Daily Mirror that the Hambantota Port was "totally owned and controlled" by Sri Lanka and any approvals and decisions regarding the port were to be taken by the Sri Lankan side.
"It is a joint venture and any approvals, including calling of ships at the Hambantota Port, is entirely Sri Lanka's decision," Luo said, the newspaper reported.
President Rajapaksa, in his first interview since taking office, said that while he remained committed to close ties with both China and India, he would re-negotiate the Hambantota Port lease agreement with China, terming it a "mistake" and calling on the Chinese company to be open to the move.
"We were never to give control of the port to China; that was a mistake," President Rajapaksa said, pointing out the decision was made by the previous administration.
"The previous government gave it on a 99-year lease, and even though China is a good friend of ours and we need their assistance for development, I am not afraid to say that was a mistake."
The President stated he would request the Chinese to renegotiate the joint venture and come with a better deal to assist Sri Lanka.
In July 2017, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority entered into a partnership with China Merchants Port Holdings (CM Port) to develop and manage the port.
Former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in 2017 agreed to lease the port for 99 years to a venture led by China Merchants Port Holdings Co. in return for $1.1 billion.