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Amid much suspense, Sri Lanka apparently buckled to Beijing’s pressure in allowing a Chinese spy ship to dock at its Hambantota port, which China partly funded, built and then effectively took over from it on a 99-year lease via a deal which reeked of a debt settlement. That Colombo would fall into a Beijing-laid trap and end up aiding its suspected strategy of encircling India with bases had been a worry in New Delhi all along. The crisis-hit island nation’s government is no longer as well disposed to its biggest creditor as it was. The vessel, assessed to be equipped with devices that could monitor all projectile launches from India and carry out other forms of surveillance in the region, received a lukewarm reception from its host. Reports have also surfaced of conditions being placed on the ship that seem designed to reassure India. While we must not overreact, it’s important to impress upon Colombo that a tilt away from China is not only in its best interest, it needs to work out clear limits on what Beijing can extract from it. Sri Lanka’s economy needs a multilateral agency bailout, and it mustn’t do anything that raises the risk of Indo-Pacific instability.

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