A Chinese naval vessel has arrived in a southern port of Sri Lanka that Beijing is leasing from the government, sparking renewed security concerns from India.
On Tuesday morning, the Yuan Wang 5 sailed into Hambantota Port, which was built by Beijing, and was welcomed by senior Sri Lankan and Chinese officials in a traditional red-carpet ceremony with a huge banner reading: “Hello Sri Lanka, Lang long live the friendship between Sri Lanka and China.”
Although the ship will only stay for a few days, the development has already raised the alarm in India, which has viewed China’s increasing influence in the Indian Ocean with suspicion. Analysts say the Yuan Wang’s moves will also be closely watched by the US and Western allies, as they have long criticized Beijing’s dealings with Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has officially called the Yuan Wang 5 a “scientific research vessel”. “But the suspicion here in India is that despite the insistence of Chinese commentators, it is a civilian, it may actually have military functions,” said Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli, dean of the school of international studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
On Tuesday, Indian news channels reported the latest development. “The Yuan Wang 5 is a powerful tracking vessel whose significant range – reportedly around 750 km – means several ports in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh could be on China’s radar,” the Indian Express newspaper reported.
Brahma Chellaney, a former member of India’s National Security Advisory Council, said: on Twitter“When a small, bankrupt nation like Sri Lanka deals a diplomatic blow to New Delhi by hosting a Chinese guard ship in the commercial port of Hambantota, it is a stunning reminder of both India’s unerring foreign policy and the dwindling influence in its strategic backyard. . .”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed such concerns. “The marine scientific research conducted by the research vessel Yuan Wang 5 is in accordance with international law and international common practice and will not affect the security and economic interests of any country,” he told a news conference on Tuesday.
Sri Lanka has been in serious economic trouble in recent months. Chinese loans account for about 10% of the country’s total external debt. But as of this year, India has also lent about $3.8 billion to help Sri Lanka through the economic crisis.
China’s move into geopolitically important Sri Lanka highlights Colombo’s delicate diplomatic balance trapped between the great powers at a time of economic despair. It also came just a day after Delhi donated a maritime reconnaissance plane to Colombo on Monday. Delhi said the gesture was aimed at more effectively addressing multiple security issues, such as human and drug trafficking, as well as other crimes in coastal waters.
Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Arindam Bagchi said last week that India was aware of the ship’s planned visit and that it is closely monitoring any development affecting its security and economic interests and taking all measures necessary. will take to protect it.
Delhi also “rejected innuendo” that Sri Lanka was being pressured to slow down the Chinese ship. Colombo said it “had extensive high-level consultations through diplomatic channels with all parties involved” before granting the Chinese vessel final approval.