A Chinese naval warship has landed at a port in southern Sri Lanka that Beijing rents from the government, raising new security concerns in India.
The Yuan Wang 5 arrived at the Beijing-built Hambantota port on Tuesday morning, and was greeted by top Sri Lankan and Chinese officials in a customary ceremony that included a red carpet and a giant banner that read: “Hello Sri Lanka, Long Live Sri Lanka-China Friendship.”
Even though ship will only be in India for a few days, the news has alarmed India, which has been wary of China’s growing clout in the Indian Ocean. Analysts believe Yuan Wang’s actions would be keenly watched by the US and its western allies, which have long questioned Beijing’s ties with Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka officially refers to the Yuan Wang 5 as a “scientific research ship.” “But the fear here in India is that, despite Chinese critics’ insistence that it is public, this could actually have military responsibilities,” said Prof Srikanth Kondapalli, head of Jawaharlal Nehru University’s faculty of international studies.
Indian news outlets commented on the newest development on Tuesday. “The Yuan Wang 5 is a formidable tracking craft with a considerable aerial reach – apparently approximately 750km,” the Indian Express stated.
“When a small, bankrupt nation like Sri Lanka delivers a diplomatic slap to New Delhi by hosting a Chinese surveillance ship at its commercial port of Hambantota, it is a stunning reminder of both India’s feckless international policy and receding influence in its strategic back yard,” said Brahma Chellaney, a former member of India’s homeland security advisory committee, on Twitter.
Wang Wenbin, a spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, downplayed such worries. “The maritime scientific study done by the research ship Yuan Wang 5 adheres to international law and international common practise, and will not jeopardise any country’s security or economic interests,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday.
Sri Lanka has been immersed in major economic problems in recent months. Chinese loans account for around 10% of the country’s overall foreign debt. However, beginning this year, India has also lent nearly $3.8 billion to assist Sri Lanka in overcoming its economic problems.
China’s geopolitically crucial action Sri Lanka exemplifies Colombo’s precarious diplomatic balance, stuck between major countries at a period of economic distress. It also came barely one day after Delhi gave a maritime surveillance aircraft to Colombo on Monday. Delhi stated that the gesture was made to better effectively address several security concerns such as human and drug trafficking, as well as other crimes in its coastal waterways.
Arindam Bagchi, the spokeswoman for India’s foreign ministry, stated last week that India was aware of the planned visit by the warship and that it closely follows any development that impacts its security and economic interests and will take all means to protect them.
In addition, Delhi “rejected insinuations” that Sri Lanka was under pressure to postpone the Chinese warship. Before approving the Chinese warship, Colombo stated that it had “engaged in lengthy deliberations at a high level through diplomatic channels with all parties concerned.”