Sri Lanka eyes Chinese plane
Sri Lanka seeks Chinese dual use transport planes. In Picture: Harbin Y-12 II of Sri Lankan air force.Wiki Commons/AKS.9955

Sri Lanka seems to have opted for Chinese-made Xian Y-20 as it looks to bolster military transport planes in its inventory.

Chinese military transport planes have received a thumbs up from none other than Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who termed them as "good workhorses."

"I have travelled around in some of the Chinese transport planes we have. They are good workhorses. Some people have raised questions about their quality, but I have always said, 'Look, as far as I am concerned, I will always underwrite Chinese military transport planes'. We will buy two more," Wickremesinghe told South China Morning Post in an interview.

The report noted that Sri Lanka might be offered the newly-developed Xian Y-20, and might also become the first export country for Xian Y-20. Sri Lanka has experience in using Chinese transport planes as it currently uses Harbin Y-12, Xian MA60 and Shaanxi Y-8. Currently, Sri Lanka uses Antonov An-32 for its heavy transport duties and C-130 Hercules for its tactical transport duties.

Xian Y-20 has the distinction of being the first cargo aircraft to use 3D printing technology and the largest military aircraft to enter production.

Sri Lanka is looking at dual use planes that can carry tourists and be deployed for military duties. Wickremesinghe said that the country is going in for such aircraft as it's "airports have excess capacity."

India was concerned over Sri Lanka tilting towards China, especially during the presidency of Mahila Rajapaksa. China has several investments in the island country and will be beginning work on the $1.4 billion development project, Colombo Port City.

Moreover, Sri Lanka has also given 80 percent of Hambantota deep sea port to a Chinese company, China Merchants Holdings, on a 99-year lease for $1.1 billion. It was built and financed by China Merchants Holdings, but has not seen any ships.

Sri Lanka is yet to take a decision on contract for fighter jet. Earlier, it was reported that Sri Lanka was planning to buy 12 JF-17, multi-role combat aircraft developed jointly by the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation of China. But Sri Lankan defence officials dismissed the reports. It was believed that the deal was cancelled over Indian diplomatic pressure. India is eyeing Sri Lanka as a market for its LCA Tejas aircraft.

"China, India, Sweden and Russia have made offers, we are studying them," Wickremesinghe said.

The current government has softened its stand over Chinese investments after the previous government bungled up on debt repayment. Sri Lanka's foreign debt has increased from 36 percent of GDP in 2010 to 94 percent in 2015.

Moreover, the report said, a third of Sri Lankan earnings are estimated to be spent on the Chinese debt. But Wickremesinghe believes that the answer for his country's problems could be to make Hambantota port work. He wants it to match with that of China's Shenzhen.

"Why not? I had been to Shenzhen in 1979, it was a paddy field. I was travelling by train from Canton [Guangzhou] to Hong Kong. I went there again in 1987 and saw how it had transformed from a small fishing village," Wickremesinghe said.