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Home / News / India /  Sri Lanka allows ‘spy’ Chinese ship to dock at its port on 16 August, India says monitoring situation
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COLOMBO : The Sri Lankan government has allowed a high-tech and controversial Chinese research ship to dock at the southern port of Hambantota on 16 August, despite India's concerns that it could spy on New Delhi's military installations. 

The Chinese ballistic missile and satellite tracking ship, 'Yuan Wang 5', was earlier scheduled to arrive on Thursday and remain at the port until 17 August for replenishment.

The Yuan Wang 5 is described as a research and survey vessel by international shipping and analytics sites, but according to Indian reports it is a dual-use spy ship.

The Sri Lankan foreign ministry requested the Chinese embassy last week to postpone the vessel's visit following security concerns raised by India. Subsequently, the vessel did not dock at the Hambantota port on Thursday as planned. According to the officials, the government has finally permitted the ship to dock at the port. It will now arrive on 16 August and remain at the port till 22 August, they said.

The ship was awaiting clearance to enter from its location 600 nautical miles away east of Hambantota.

Meanwhile, the matter created much controversy in the island nation with the Opposition blaming the government for what they termed mishandling of the issue.

The southern deep-sea port of Hambantota is considered strategically important for its location. The port has been developed largely with Chinese loans.

India has said it carefully monitors any development having a bearing on its security and economic interests. New Delhi is suspicious of Beijing's increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and influence in Sri Lanka, seeing both as being firmly within its sphere of influence.

"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.

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.

India on Friday rejected China's "insinuations" that New Delhi pressured Colombo against the planned visit by the Chinese research vessel but asserted that it will take decisions based on its security concerns.

External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said Sri Lanka, as a sovereign country, makes its own independent decisions and noted that India would make its judgment on its security concerns based on the prevailing situation in the region, especially in the border areas.

According to Indian reports, the Yuan Wang 5 could be employed for space and satellite tracking, and has specific uses in intercontinental ballistic missile launches.

Even as permission for the Chinese vessel to enter Sri Lankan waters was announced, Colombo's air force said it had been given a maritime surveillance aircraft by India. It said the Dornier 228 patrol aircraft was loaned from the Indian naval fleet as part of a donation arranged in 2018.

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. 

Port officials said the Chinese vessel was about 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) south-east of Sri Lanka on Friday night and was heading slowly towards the Hambantota deep sea port.

Sri Lanka leased the port -- close to main shipping routes from Asia to Europe -- to China for 99 years for $1.12 billion, less than the $1.4 billion Sri Lanka paid a Chinese company to build it.

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