COLOMBO: The planned visit of a Chinese ship to Sri Lanka has sparked diplomatic concern in the island nation, with the government in Colombo asking Beijing to delay the ship’s arrival next week.
The Chinese research and survey vessel, Yuan Wang 5, is en route to Sri Lanka’s second-largest port, Hambantota, where it is expected to arrive on August 11. The $1.5 billion port, located near the main shipping route from Asia to Europe, had been built and leased by Beijing.
The planned arrival of the ship had raised concerns, including from India, about China’s influence in Sri Lanka, with the country attracting interest from the two regional giants due to its strategic location. India’s External Affairs Ministry said on July 28 that New Delhi is “carefully monitoring any developments affecting India’s security and economic interests and taking all necessary measures to protect them.”
Amid fears that this could affect Sri Lanka’s diplomatic relations, the Foreign Ministry in Colombo requested “that the date of arrival of the vessel Yuan Wang 5 at Hambantota be postponed until further consultations are held about it,” according to a report from The Sunday Morning.
“The Indian Ocean is of strategic importance to all nations in the South Asian region, and the docking of a spy ship poses a major threat to maritime security in the region,” said Rishad Bathiudeen, former Sri Lankan Minister of Industry and Commerce. Arab News.
“The entry and exit of any vessel in the territorial waters of Sri Lanka is not only a matter of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka, but also poses security concerns for other neighboring countries,” said Bathiudeen.
Belt & Road Initiative Sri Lanka, a consultancy based in the country, said on its website that the 5 Yuan Wang would be in Hambantota for a week. According to the firm, the vessel will “perform satellite monitoring and search tracking” in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean region.
The Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka did not immediately respond to Arab News’ request for comment.
China is one of Sri Lanka’s biggest lenders and has financed infrastructure projects such as airports, roads and railways as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. In 2017, Colombo formally handed over commercial operations at its main southern port to a Chinese company on a 99-year lease after struggling to repay debts.
As Sri Lanka faces its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948, India has provided the country of 22 million people with nearly $4 billion in aid.
Diplomatic relations between India and China have been strained since clashes involving troops along the remote Himalayan border in 2020 killed at least 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers. The incident led to a massive buildup of troops on both sides.
Mohamed Zuhair, Sri Lanka’s former ambassador to Iran and adviser to the president, told Arab News that the country’s relations with India and China are “very crucial”.
But as India’s immediate neighbor Zuhair said, Colombo needs to be careful because a good relationship with New Delhi “is also something very sensitive that we have to protect.
“We don’t need to oppose either country,” Zuhair said. “Especially with India, we have to have very good relations; This does not mean that we oppose China in the process, (but) in the vessel case, China should agree to Sri Lanka’s request to postpone it.