Chinese survey ship docks in Sri Lanka after diplomatic standoff

Aug 16, 2022: According to a report by Al Jazeera, a Chinese research ship has docked at a Sri Lankan port after a days-long delay, reportedly because of concerns raised by India and the United States.

The Yuan Wang 5 entered Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port on Tuesday morning, and was welcomed by Chinese diplomats and port officials, according to the Colombo Gazette.

The satellite tracking ship was initially scheduled to arrive in Hambantota port, a facility built and leased by Chinese companies and located on the southern tip of Sri Lanka, on August 11.

But the Sri Lankan foreign ministry deferred the five-day replenishment visit on August 8, citing “certain concerns”, apparently due to protests from New Delhi and Washington, according to media reports.

According to Reuters, India objected to the ship’s visit, with Indian media describing the 730-foot vessel (222.5 metres) as a dual-use spy ship. The Pentagon, in its latest report on China’s military, had said the Yuan Wang vessels are operated by the Strategic Support Force of the People’s Liberation Army. It said the ships can be used to monitor satellite, rocket and ballistic missile launches.

India’s foreign ministry, however, rejected reports that it pressured Sri Lanka to turn the Yuan Wang away.

China, which has been vying for influence in Sri Lanka, is the country’s largest creditor and has provided the country in the past with billions of dollars for development projects, including for the construction of the Hambantota port. Sri Lanka has since been struggling to repay the loans, and in 2017, handed over commercial activities at the $1.5bn port to a Chinese company for 99 years in exchange for debt relief. At the time, the move raised concern in India that China could use the port as a military base.

Amid the diplomatic standoff, the Yuang Wang 5 reportedly reduced speed and turned around at sea, and China’s foreign ministry said it was “completely unjustified for certain countries to cite the so-called ‘security concerns’ to pressure Sri Lanka”.

It also urged “the relevant parties to see China’s marine scientific research activities in a rational light and stop disrupting normal exchange and cooperation between China and Sri Lanka”.

The ship would be allowed to stay in Sri Lanka until August 22, it said, on the condition that it would keep its identification systems on and would not carry out any research activities in the country’s waters.

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