A Chinese research and survey ship is due to dock in the Chinese-run Hambantota Port in southern Sri Lanka on August 11, leading India to closely monitor the situation.
Sri Lanka’s Defence Ministry media spokesman Colonel Nalin Herath said Sri Lanka understands India’s concern as the ship is capable of monitoring military installations, but it’s a routine exercise.
“Naval ships from India, China Russia, Japan and Malaysia from time to time have requested, and so we have granted permission to China. Only when there is a nuclear-capable ship coming our way we can deny access. This is not a nuclear-capable kind of ship,” said Colonel Herath, adding China informed Sri Lanka they are sending the ship for surveillance and navigation in the Indian Ocean.
The Chinese ship, Yuan Wang 5, has requested Sri Lanka permission for replenishment. The buffer time for docking is from August 11 to 17.
“China informed us that they are sending their ship for surveillance and navigation in the Indian Ocean,” Colonel Hearth said.
Sources in Sri Lanka’s Defence Ministry said the Chinese ship is a “very capable, advanced naval vessel with a lot of sophisticated parts on board.”
A similar situation had unfolded in 2014 when two Chinese submarines came to Hambantota Port, leading to a tense situation. China then did not even inform Sri Lanka, let alone India, that they had sent a submarine. Since then, there have been no such Chinese submarine visits to Sri Lankan ports.
India has made it clear it will closely monitor “any bearing on India’s security and economic interests and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them”.
India remains suspicious of China’s growing influence in Sri Lanka, which owes large amounts of money to Beijing for infrastructure projects, including the $1.4-billion Hambantota Port.
Sri Lanka gave a Chinese company a 99-year lease on the port, located along the main East-West international shipping lanes, in 2017 after being unable to keep up with debt repayments on the facility. Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion in foreign debts in April and has since opened bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund.
The country’s 22 million people have been enduring severe shortages of food, fuel and medicines since late last year when the government ran out of foreign exchange to finance most imports.
With inputs from NDTV