A Chinese research vessel docked to the south Sri Lanka The port Beijing leased from the government on Tuesday, officials said, after India expressed security concerns about the presence of the ship in nearby waters.
Port workers in Hambantota gave a rousing welcome to the Yuan Wang 5, hoisting the flags of Sri Lanka and China, while the ship displayed a large banner reading “Hello Sri Lanka”.
However, the ship’s arrival appears to have heightened tensions between New Delhi and Beijing, which have spent billions of dollars on development and dealings with Sri Lanka, an island of 22 million people that lies on a key trade route.
The Yuan Wang 5 had originally sought permission to dock at the port last week, but India refused, delaying the visit due to concerns over the ship’s presence. putting any pressure on Colombo.
China says the ship is used for scientific research, but the US Defense Department says the ship is under the command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and is capable of tracking satellites and missile launches.
On Saturday, Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry said the government had held “extensive” consultations with “all parties concerned” “with a view to resolving the matter in a spirit of friendship, mutual trust and constructive dialogue”.
The ship was allowed to dock on the condition that no scientific research was carried out in Sri Lankan waters.
Ship arrivals at the Hambantota port have always been controversial – China leased the port from Sri Lanka for 99 years in 2017 after Colombo failed to repay a loan related to the construction of the facility.
At the time, the deal raised concerns that it would give China access to key shipping lanes in India’s traditional sphere of influence. And Sri Lanka’s neighbors are alarmed by the presence of a ship loaded with advanced technology.
According to a US Department of Defense report published last year, the ship is under the command of the PLA’s Strategic Support Force (SSF), “a theater command-level organization established to centralize the PLA’s strategic space, cyber, electronic, information, communications, and psychological warfare missions and capabilities.” .
“The SSF also operates Yuan Wang space support ships that track satellites and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launches,” the US report said.
Carl Schuster, a former US Navy captain and former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, said New Delhi’s concern about the ship’s presence in Sri Lanka was due to its surveillance capabilities.
“Espionage is not its primary mission … its primary mission is satellite tracking and monitoring of PRC rocket launches, telemetry and satellite position … but the same capability is used to monitor satellite operations, downlinks and missile telemetry of other countries.” said
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday that the ship was carrying out scientific research “in accordance with international law”.
It “does not affect the security and economic interests of any country and should not be interfered with by third parties,” said spokesman Wang Wenbin.
Yuan Wang has become a symbol of 5 increasing tension Between India and China – both of which have provided economic support to Colombo as it experiences its worst financial crisis in decades.
India has given Important assistance Sri Lanka is facing shortages of food, fuel and medicine, owing $4 billion in lines of credit.
China is also Sri Lanka’s major creditor and has been instrumental in efforts to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt to secure a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.
Relations between India and China have been tense in recent years Prolonged military standoff Dozens of people have died along their shared Himalayan border.
Meanwhile, India has Raised near the United States To balance China’s increasingly assertive role in the Indo-Pacific. In October, Washington and New Delhi will hold joint military exercises less than 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the disputed Indo-China border – further straining ties between the two nuclear-armed powers.
In late July, India’s Ministry of Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi expressed concern over the Chinese ship’s visit to Sri Lanka, telling reporters that “the government carefully monitors any development affecting India’s security and economic interests and takes all necessary measures to protect them.”
On August 5, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a letter to the Chinese Embassy in Colombo postponing the arrival of Yuan Wang 5 “pending further consultations”.
Three days later, without naming India, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang said the “brutal interference” in Sri Lanka’s foreign relations was “an act of taking advantage of someone when they are in danger, which is against the basic rules of international relations.”
India later denied claims that it was the reason for the delay in the ship’s docking, Bagchi told reporters last week, saying, “Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and takes its own independent decisions.”
On Monday, India demonstrated the strength of its commitment to Sri Lanka by gifting a reconnaissance aircraft to the island nation in a ceremony attended by the Sri Lankan President.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement that the aircraft’s visit underlines the cooperation between the maritime neighbours.
Sri Lanka is an ideal trans-shipment hub for Chinese imports and exports – and is “very strategic for India,” said Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.
Sri Lanka was “stuck between a rock and a hard place,” he said, citing India and China in no particular order.
“The Chinese had put pressure on them. The Indians had put pressure on them. And they can’t afford to lose any help. All countries that are small and economically weak will face these challenges if they are difficult neighbors.”
China has invested in Sri Lanka for decades, at a time when many international communities stood back.
As many Western countries withheld funding to Sri Lanka over alleged human rights abuses during the decade-long civil war that ended in 2009, China provided financial aid to the former Rajapaksa government, said Ganesan Wignaraja, a senior research fellow at the British think tank. ODI Global.
He said, “Sri Lanka then thought it could use China for infrastructure-led economic development.
Between 2005 and 2017, China almost spent $15 billion in Sri Lanka, but as the island nation’s economic fortunes waned, it struggled to pay off its debt and the countries agreed on a long-term port deal.
Sending Yuan Wang 5 to the port of Hambantota, Vighnaraja said he was checking the boundaries of that agreement.
“China is testing the terms of the lease agreement by sending a craft that has satellites and its capabilities are very advanced,” Vignaraja said.