A Chinese research vessel's visit to a strategic port in Sri Lanka has left feathered ruffled in Indian defense circles.
The Chinese vessel, 'Yuan Wang 5' is on its way to Sri Lanka and is expected to dock in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port from August 11-17 for ‘replenishment’ and will conduct satellite control and research tracking in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean region through August and September. The southern deep-sea port of Hambantota is considered strategically important for its location. The port, located in the hometown of the Rajapaksa family, has been developed largely with Chinese loans.
Following the incident, the government of India officially conveyed its concerns over the vessel's docking at the key Sri Lankan port. Indian officials are reported to have informed Sri Lanka that the visit could pose a threat to its national security, according to local officials. India has said it carefully monitors any development having a bearing on its security and economic interests.
Why India considers the Chinese ship's arrival in Sri Lanka a national security threat
The ship that is arriving in Sri Lanka has the abity to track ballistic missiles and satellites. The movement incidentally comes at a time when US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan has led to a Chinese build-up off the Taiwanese coast.
India has traditionally taken a stern view of Chinese military vessels in the Indian Ocean and has protested such visits with Sri Lanka in the past.
India’s concerns have been focused on Hambantota port in particular. In 2017, Colombo leased the southern port to China Merchant Port Holdings, after Sri Lanka was unable to keep its loan repayment commitments, fanning fears over the potential use of the port for military purposes.
Speaking to the media in New Delhi, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, "We are aware of reports of a proposed visit by this vessel to Hambantota in August",
"The government carefully monitors any development having a bearing on India's security and economic interests and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them," he said on Thursday.
India-Sri Lanka relations
The proposed visit by the vessel comes when Sri Lanka is grappling with a severe economic crisis. India has been at the forefront of extending economic assistance to Sri Lanka as it is grappling with the worst economic crisis since 1948.
As the new Sri Lankan president looks at pulling the country out of its economic crisis, India had said that it will continue to assist the island nation and support its people in their quest for stability and prosperity.
Sri Lanka's reaction
Sri Lanka said it is handling the matter with an "approach of friendship". Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena has said, “Both countries are our close friends, we will try to settle the issue with an approach of friendship,” the newly-appointed Gunawardena told reporters at a public gathering. Bandula Gunawardena, the Cabinet spokesman and Minister of Information, said that the Cabinet at a meeting on Monday discussed the Chinese ship’s visit. Foreign Minister Ali Sabry told the Cabinet that the Chinese vessel had only asked for a refuelling visit. Gunawardena said President Ranil Wickremesinghe had also assured the Cabinet that the ship’s issue could be settled amicably.
(with inputs from PTI)