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Is China fishing in troubled Sri Lankan waters

4 Min
Is China fishing in troubled Sri Lankan waters

Yuan Wang 5, the Chinese research and survey vessel, is en route to the Hambantota Port in Southern Sri Lanka prompting security concerns from India which has continuously provided a lifeline of nearly USD 4 billion to the crisis-hit Sri Lanka unlike China.

The Chinese vessel dubbed as a spy ship is due to arrive in Sri Lanka on August 11. Responding to mainly concerns raised by the Indian side, the Sri Lankan Government has maintained that there is no military motive behind the visit by the vessel.

Sri Lankan Cabinet Spokesman Bandula Gunawardana said the vessel was arriving to refuel and not for any other purpose and added that the country’s foreign minister has briefed the new President of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe on the matter.

“President told Cabinet that diplomatic efforts will be made to work with both countries so as not to create any issues,” Gunawardana said.

Sri Lanka’s Defence Ministry media spokesman Colonel Nalin Herath also expressed similar sentiments saying that the country will allow the vessel to dock since it is a non-nuclear platform.

However, he said that they are aware of India’s concerns. “China informed us that they are sending their ship for surveillance and navigation in the Indian Ocean,” he said.

It is interesting to note that the Hambantota Port was funded by China, and its majority stakes were handed over to a Chinese firm in 2017 after Sri Lanka failed to repay the loans obtained to complete the project.

Responding to security concerns, earlier too, the Sri Lankan authorities have said the Port would only be used for commercial purposes and that there is no room for Chinese military activities at the port. Hence, the decision to allow the ‘spy’ vessel to dock at the port has rightfully irked India.

According to reports, Yuan Wang 5 is a dual-use spy, research and survey vessel, employed for space and satellite tracking and with specific usage in intercontinental ballistic missile launches. This vessel is in control of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) under its Strategic Support Force(SSF) unit. The SSF focuses on space, cyber, and electronic warfare.

It is said that the ‘Yuan Wang 5’ is a powerful tracking vessel whose significant aerial reach — reportedly around 750 km — means that several ports in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh could be on China’s radar. Reports have claimed that several vital installations in South India could be under threat of being snooped upon.

Meanwhile, Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) founder S. Ramadoss on July 31 expressed concern over the Chinese spy ship docking in Hambantota Port. He also said that if the vessel is allowed to dock at the Hambantota Port, it will pose a risk for the Kudankulam and Kalpakkam nuclear reactors as well as for the Chennai and Thoothukudi Ports.

Foreign security analysts describe the Yuan Wang 5 as one of China’s latest generation space-tracking ships, used to monitor satellite, rocket and intercontinental ballistic missile launches.

A Sri Lankan consulting firm, the Belt & Road Initiative Sri Lanka, said on its website that the Yuan Wang 5 will dock at Hambantota Port on August 11 for a week and will likely leave on August 17 after replenishment.

It further said Yuan Wang 5 would be in Hambantota for a week and “conduct space tracking, satellite control and research tracking in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean region through August and September”.

Since the economic crisis spiraled in Sri Lanka early this year, it was neighbouring India that stepped up to help the debt ridden country with unconditional support. However, China was less keen on helping Sri Lanka especially in terms of debt-restructuring. Therefore, the move to allow the Chinese vessel to arrive at a Sri Lankan Port has raised many eyebrows within and outside the nation.

To make things worse, the Sri Lankan Government has chosen to confirm the development only when Indian officials has taken note. As such, it is only reasonable for India to react the way it has.

Last week, the Indian Foreign Ministry said the Centre was monitoring the planned visit of the Chinese vessel and added that India has already lodged a verbal protest with the Sri Lankan Government against the ship’s visit.

Meanwhile, responding to the security concerns raised by India, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it had always exercised freedom of the high seas lawfully.

“China hopes that the relevant parties will view and report on China’s marine scientific research activities correctly and refrain from interfering with normal and legitimate maritime activities,” the ministry said.

The development is a test itself for newly elected Sri Lankan President Wickremesinghe as his government is still attempting to secure a massive loan from China to help ease the impact of the ongoing economic crisis.

He has not yet made any comment either on the scheduled visit of the Chinese vessel or the concerns raised by India. Instead he held a cordial discussion with the Chinese Ambassador in Sri Lanka where he firmly committed to the one-China policy, a day after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan despite vociferous protests from China.

In a Tweet posted during a meeting with Qi Zhenghong, Mr.Wickremesinghe reiterated Sri Lanka’s firm commitment to the one-China policy, as well as to the UN Charter principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations.

“Mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of countries are important foundations for peaceful cooperation and non-confrontation,” he tweeted.####

–report in Daily Mirror online