From July, the Yuan Wang 5 It is sailing from China to the southern Sri Lankan port of Hambantota after Sri Lankan officials approved a stopover for “replenishment”. But Indian and US officials strongly pressured the Sri Lankan government to cancel port access, angering their Chinese counterparts.
Caught in the middle, Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday that it had formally requested China to postpone the visit and “desires to reaffirm the enduring friendship and excellent relations between Sri Lanka and China.” Sri Lankan media reported on Thursday that the vessel slowed and turned around, only to make another U-turn in the sea and continue towards the island.
As of Thursday – when the Yuan Wang 5 was originally scheduled to arrive – Sri Lankan officials were negotiating with the Chinese about whether and when to allow the ship to dock, said a senior Sri Lankan foreign ministry official with direct knowledge. discussion Indian, Chinese and US officials are lobbying hard behind the scenes, said the Sri Lankan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private discussions within the government.
While the Chinese naval ship arriving in Hambantota is not strategically important, Indian and US officials say Sri Lanka is giving China, a major creditor, special treatment as the embattled government in Colombo needs to renegotiate its debt. With many international lenders and receive bailout From the International Monetary Fund. As Sri Lanka’s economy slumped this year, India, which views South Asia as its traditional sphere of influence and seeks to reverse China’s growing role there, lent the island $4 billion to buy emergency fuel.
Then there is the history of the port itself. China, which financed and built it for Sri Lanka in 2012, took control of the facility on a 99-year lease in 2017, after Sri Lanka struggled to repay the loan, prompting accusations from the Trump administration that Beijing was aggressively lending its world. -Belt and Road Infrastructure Programme.
This week, China indirectly accused India of “fraudulent interference” in its affairs and dismissed complaints that the sensors in the Yuan Wang 5 could be used to spy inside India.
“It is unreasonable for a third party to put pressure on Sri Lanka on so-called security grounds,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing.
The dispute reflects the jockeying between the United States and its partners and China that is taking place around the world. Since taking office, President Biden has stepped up the previous US administration’s efforts to curb Chinese expansion in the Indian and Pacific oceans, and has rallied countries like India and Australia to help in that effort. For its part, India has sought US help to counter China, a regional rival with which it has ongoing border disputes.
American analysts say that if China bases its warships off Hambantota – which it has not done so far – the People’s Liberation Army will gain a foothold in a highly strategic location close to important shipping lanes and the Persian Gulf. But analysts also say that since Washington has historically supported the principle of unrestricted navigation and has often angered China with its naval maneuvers, it is odd for the US to openly call for China to deny access to its ports.
The US Embassy in Colombo declined to comment.
“US ships make port calls throughout Southeast Asia and East Asia that make China uncomfortable and vice versa,” said Joshua T., a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution and former South Asia adviser to President Barack Obama’s National Security Council. White said.
In recent years, Washington and New Delhi have strengthened military cooperation in the Indian Ocean to counter China, White said. On Sunday, a US Navy cargo ship underwent repairs at a shipyard near the southern Indian city of Chennai near Sri Lanka. This is the first time India has allowed US Navy ships to dock for repairs, something the Pentagon has been demanding for years.
As the Yuan Wang 5 made its way across the Indian Ocean this week and speculation surrounding the port visit gathered pace, the media in both India and China have been abuzz with commentary.
In India, newspapers warned of the ship’s surveillance capabilities after the Indian Ministry of External Affairs issued a strict statement about monitoring any activities that threaten Indian national security. The cable channel flashed the hashtag “#Chinesespyship” during news programs.
“Take Sri Lanka, for example: their debt trap has already pushed the country over the edge, but Beijing is not done yet. They intend to create more trouble for the island,” Palki Sharma, anchor of the pro-government WION network, said in prime time. A monologue. “… Be it humanitarian aid, IMF bailout talks, only India has come forward to help Sri Lanka. China has looted on a massive scale.”
The Chinese were similarly irritated, especially after Sri Lanka asked for the postponement of the port visit.
“India is bullying a bankrupt country,” snapped the host of a popular channel on Tencent News. “Just because India paid $4 billion, they think they are calling the shots now. How does that amount compare to what China has given Sri Lanka over the years?”
Former Chief of Indian Navy Retired Adv. Arun Prakash said that the temperature needs to be reduced. The dispute between India and China has not benefited either Sri Lanka or Sri Lanka.
“We must respect Sri Lanka’s autonomy, especially at a time when they are on their knees,” he said. “This is a sovereign country that can allow any ship to come in. We don’t have the Monroe Doctrine in this region.”