Tensions between India and China over a port in Sri Lanka

New Delhi has expressed concern over a visit by a Chinese survey vessel to a strategic port in Sri Lanka, India’s southern neighbor.

New Delhi fears that the Chinese-built and leased port of Hambantota could be used by Beijing as a military base in India’s backyard. The $1.5 billion port is close to the main shipping route connecting Asia with Europe.

This was shown by navigation data from Refinitiv Eikon the research and survey vessel Yuan Wang 5 was en route to Hambantota and was due to arrive on August 11, at a time when Sri Lanka is experiencing its worst economic crisis.

The Yuan Wang 5 would be a dual-purpose spy ship, used for space and satellite tracking and specifically for launching ICBMs, according to CNN News18. India fears the arrival of this ship in Sri Lanka due to the strong likelihood that it will be fitted with high-tech listening devices to probe Indian territory.

In a weekly briefing on July 29, Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said the government was monitoring the Chinese ship’s planned visit, adding that New Delhi would protect its security and economic interests.

Sri Lanka has reportedly asked China to delay the arrival of its ship after India raised concerns about the ” true purpose” this trip.

Yuan Wang 5 is a dual-purpose spy ship used for space and satellite tracking and specifically for launching ICBMs. It is a third-generation Yuan Wang series pursuit ship, commissioned on September 29, 2007, designed by the 708 Research Institute of China.

The ship in question is scheduled to call at Hambantota Port on August 11 and will remain there until August 17. Sri Lanka received a request for fuel and other supplies during the stay.

According to the available information After this stay, the Yuan Wang 5 will be transferred to the Indian Ocean for further research work such as space tracking and monitoring of satellite operations.

In a letter from CNN-News18, the Sri Lankan authorities asked for the ship’s arrival to be delayed “pending further consultation”. Nevertheless, The Ministry of Sri Lanka “takes this opportunity to renew its highest respect to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Colombo”.

The Global Times newspaper dismissed the “huge” over the ship’s berth in Hambantota, saying it was a regular port and the application had already been approved by the Sri Lanka Defense Forces.

Tian Shichen, founder of the Global Governance Institution and director of the International Center for Military Operations Law, told the Global Times that the Yuan Wang 5 is not a military ship but a research ship.

“Even if it is a military ship, it is normal for the stopover to comply with the applicable laws of the country where the port is located.”, he explained. Chinese experts have labeled the stopover as a service to Sri Lanka, which can win ” some “ Foreign currencies by fueling the ship and helping it stock up on supplies.

Liu Xiaoxue, a research fellow at the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times The mission of Hambantota, a commercial port run by a Chinese company, is to serve ships from all countries.

“Now Sri Lanka is facing an economic crisis and a port like Hambantota needs more ships to call at more to generate revenue and dollars for the Sri Lankan government,” he said.

On his side, The Sri Lankan Defense Ministry also noted that the visit was “nothing unusual” with ships from countries such as India, Japan and Australia regularly requesting its, according to Indian media The Hindu.

India has already lodged a verbal protest with the Sri Lankan government over the ship’s visit, Reuters news agency reported.

A Sri Lankan consultancy, the Belt & Road Initiative Sri Lanka, said on its website that the Yuan Wang 5th “would conduct space tracking, satellite control and research activities in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean region during the months of August and September.”

Sri Lanka officially handed over commercial operations of its main southern port to a Chinese company, China Merchant Port Holdings, under a 99-year lease in 2017 after struggling to repay debts.

Despite the economic difficulties plaguing Sri Lanka, the port’s dry bulk cargo grew by 1.5% yoy in the first five months of 2022. The Port of Hambantota also facilitated the shipment of 5,000 tons of oil to the fuel-poor country.

China is one of Sri Lanka’s biggest creditors and has also funded airports, roads and railways, worrying India which is now trying to regain lost ground.

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