08/01/2022, 18.05
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Sri Lanka seeks to reassure India ahead of Chinese tracking ship’s docking at Hambantota

by Arundathie Abeysinghe

The vessel is set to arrive on 11 August; India is none too pleased, afraid that China is using Sri Lanka as a military outpost. Chinese-built ports within the Belt and Road Initiative are the main target. China and India are Sri Lanka’s main creditors at a time when the island nation is struggling with an unprecedented economic crisis.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lanka is in talks with India and China to find an amicable solution to the imminent docking of China’s Yuan Wan 5 class tracking vessel at the Hambantota International Port.

According to sources from the Belt & Road Initiative Sri Lanka (BRISL), a Colombo-based think tank,[*] the Yuan Wang 5 will dock in Hambantota on 11 August and stay for a week.

The Chinese vessel recently completed a maritime monitoring mission for the launch of the Wentian Laboratory cabin module of the Tiangong space station.

After refuelling, the Yuan Wang 5 is expected to resume "space tracking, satellite control and research activities" in the northwestern Indian Ocean until September.

India is closely monitoring what is going on in its southern neighbour.

Chinese ships first arrived at Sri Lankan ports as far back at the 15th century, during the age of the great Chinese admiral Zheng, BRISL sources noted.

However, China’s activism in Sri Lanka has caused concern in India; for this reason, it is apprehensive of any development that could bear on its “security and economic interests” in the island nation, and “will take the necessary measures to safeguard them.”

India has been monitoring Chinese-built ports of call, from Myanmar to East Africa, part of the Belt and Road Initiative, seen as "a direct challenge to India's interests" since they could be used as military outposts.

Sri Lanka too will monitor any development that might affect India’s security and economic interests and take any step to protect them.

The Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry, the Port Authority of Sri Lanka (SLPA), and the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry authorised the Yuan Wang 5 to dock weeks ago before the new president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, took office.

This raised some eyebrows in India over the timing of the visit to the Chinese-built and run Hambantota Port, undoubtedly seen as an attempt to take advantage of Sri Lanka’s political crisis.

The last time, a Chinese Navy ship visited Sri Lanka was in 2014, when a submarine docked in Colombo; this angered New Delhi, where the issue was taken up at the “highest level”.

According to leading government sources, Sri Lanka must manage the situation at a time when the government is negotiating debt restructuring, with India and China as its two largest creditors.

For the South Asian country, which is going through a deep economic crisis, Chinese and Indian cooperation are crucial. However, some observers see the visit by the Yuan Wang 5 as a great opportunity for Sri Lanka and other countries in the region to learn how to develop their own space programmes.

[*] BRISL is an educational and consulting platform centred on cultural, business and technological cooperation under the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).

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