Sri Lanka allows Chinese spy ship Yuan Wang-5 to dock at Hambantota
Colombo, Aug 13: Despite India's concerns, Sri Lanka has reportedly granted permission to the Chinese vessel Yuan Wang-5, widely believed to be a spy ship, to dock at its Hambantota port.
The Sri Lankan government gave a nod to the Yuan Wang-5 ship to dock at the port on Friday, as per the reports in the local media.
"Yuan Wang 5 will now berth at the Hambantota International Port on August 16, five days later than scheduled. It was originally due to arrive on August 11. This was delayed after India raised strong concerns citing national security," the report said.
On July 12, Sri Lankan foreign ministry had granted approval for the vessel's docking at the Hambantota Port. On August 8, the ministry in a letter to the Chinese Embassy in Colombo requested for deferring the planned docking of the ship.
Sri Lanka's request for postponement came after the Indian government had raised strong objections to the visit citing security concerns.
However, Sri Lanka's opposition political parties blamed the government for what they termed mishandling of the issue of the docking of the Chinese ship.
The five-party breakaway group of the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party in a joint statement urged that the ship be allowed to visit Hambantota.
The southern deep-sea port of Hambantota is considered strategically important for its location. The port has been developed largely with Chinese loans.
India said it carefully monitors any development having a bearing on its security and economic interests.
"We are aware of reports of a proposed visit by this vessel to Hambantota in August," External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had said in New Delhi when asked about the reports of a proposed visit by a Chinese vessel.
"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 last month.
New Delhi is concerned about the possibility of the ship's tracking systems attempting to snoop on Indian installations while being on its way to the Sri Lankan port.
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.
The ties between India and Sri Lanka came under strain after Colombo gave permission to a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine to dock in one of its ports in 2014.
India's concerns have been focused on Hambantota port in particular. In 2017, Colombo leased the southern port to China Merchant Port Holdings for 99 years, after Sri Lanka was unable to keep its loan repayment commitments, fanning fears over the potential use of the port for military purposes.
On Monday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it was "completely unjustified for certain countries to cite the so-called "security concerns" to pressure Sri Lanka." "As Sri Lanka grapples with economic and political difficulties, to grossly interfere in Sri Lanka's normal exchange and cooperation with other countries is to exploit its vulnerability, which is morally irresponsible and against the basic norms governing international relations," Chinese Foriegn Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in Beijing in response to a question on the Chinese vessel's planned docking at the Hambantota port.
"We urge 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," Wang added.
China is the main creditor of Sri Lanka with investment in infrastructure. Debt restructuring of Chinese loans would be key to the island's success in the ongoing talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout.
India, on the other hand, has been Sri Lanka's lifeline in the ongoing economic crisis. It has been at the forefront of extending economic assistance of nearly USD 4 billion to Sri Lanka during the year as the island nation is grappling with the worst economic crisis since independence in 1948.