A Chinese navy vessel has arrived at a port in southern Sri Lanka that Beijing leases from the government, sparking fresh fears for India’s security.
On Tuesday morning, the Yuan Wang 5 entered the port of Hambantota, which was built by Beijing, and was greeted by senior Sri Lankan and Chinese officials in a traditional ceremony that involved a red carpet and a huge banner. on which one could read: “Hello Sri Lanka, Long live the Sri Lanka-China friendship.
Although the ship is only staying for a few days, the development has already sounded the alarm in India, which views China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean with suspicion. Analysts say Yuan Wang’s actions will also be closely watched by the United States and its Western allies, as it has long been critical of Beijing’s relationship with Sri Lanka.
Officially, Sri Lanka has called the Yuan Wang 5 a “scientific research vessel”. “But the suspicion here in India is that despite the insistence of Chinese commentators he is a civilian, he may in fact have military duties,” said Professor Srikanth Kondapalli, dean of the School of International Studies at the Institute. Jawaharlal Nehru University.
On Tuesday, Indian media commented on the latest developments. “The Yuan Wang 5 is a powerful scouting vessel whose significant air range – around 750 km – means that several ports in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh could be on China’s radar,” wrote the Indian Express newspaper.
Brahma Chellaney, a former member of India’s National Security Advisory Council, said on Twitter“When a small, bankrupt nation like Sri Lanka gives New Delhi a diplomatic slap in the face by welcoming a Chinese surveillance vessel to its commercial port of Hambantota, it’s a stark reminder of both the inept foreign policy of the India and the declining influence in its strategic backyard.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed those concerns. “The marine scientific research conducted by the research vessel Yuan Wang 5 is in accordance with international law and common international practice, and will not affect the security and economic interests of any country,” he said during the meeting. a press conference on Tuesday.
Sri Lanka has in recent months been mired in severe economic difficulties. Chinese loans represent around 10% of the country’s total external debt. But since this year, India has also lent about $3.8 billion to help Sri Lanka through its economic crisis.
China’s move in geopolitically important Sri Lanka highlights Colombo’s delicate diplomatic balance struck between major powers at a time of economic desperation. It also came just a day after Delhi donated a maritime reconnaissance plane to Colombo on Monday. Delhi said the move was aimed at more effectively tackling multiple security issues such as human and drug trafficking, as well as other crimes in its coastal waters.
Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said last week that India was aware of the vessel’s planned visit and was carefully monitoring any development affecting its security and economic interests and would take all measures to protect them.
Delhi also “rejected insinuations” that Sri Lanka had come under pressure to delay the Chinese ship. Colombo said it had “engaged in extensive high-level consultations through diplomatic channels with all parties concerned” before granting the Chinese vessel final clearance.