Sri Lanka has allowed a Chinese research vessel to dock at the Hambantota port next month, the island nation’s Army spokesman said on Sunday, days after India said it carefully monitors any development having a bearing on its security and economic interests.
The southern deep-sea port of Hambantota is considered strategically important for its location. The port, located in the hometown of the Rajapaksa family, has been developed largely with Chinese loans.
Asked for his comment on reports about the possible docking of the Chinese spacecraft tracking ship ‘Yuan Wang 5’ at the Hambantota port, the Sri Lankan Army spokesman Colonel Nalin Herath said Sri Lanka routinely gives clearance to enter commercial and military ships from many countries to go past and also enter Sri Lankan waters.
“We have given permission and clearance to the Chinese vessel in that context,” Herath told PTI.
Yuan Wang 5 is expected to dock in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port from 11-17 August for ‘replenishment’ and will conduct satellite control and research tracking in the north western part of the Indian Ocean region through August and September.
India has said it carefully monitors any development having a bearing on its security and economic interests. “We are aware of reports of a proposed visit by this vessel to Hambantota in August,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in New Delhi when asked about the reports of a proposed visit by a Chinese vessel. ” The Government carefully monitors any development having a bearing on India’s security and economic interests and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them,” he said on Thursday (28 July).
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s main Tamil minority party TNA on Sunday (31 July) said China’s military presence in the Indian Ocean would give India a legitimate defence concern and that Colombo should not accentuate that by providing space for Chinese military presence.
“Chinese spacecraft tracking ship Yuan Wang 5 entering the Hambantota Harbour on 11 August has again given rise to tensions in the region. We do not take sides with regard to power struggles between other countries,” the TNA said in a statement.
BRISL (Belt and Road Initiative Sri Lanka), a Colombo-based organisation studying China’s ambitious connectivity project, said “the visit of Yuan Wang-5 to Hambantota port will be an excellent opportunity for Sri Lanka and the regional developing nations to learn and develop their own space programmes.” India has traditionally taken a stern view of Chinese military vessels in the Indian Ocean and has protested such visits with Sri Lanka in the past.
India’s concerns have been focused on Hambantota port in particular. In 2017, Colombo leased the southern port to China Merchant Port Holdings, after Sri Lanka was unable to keep its loan repayment commitments, fanning fears over potential use of the port for military purposes.
The proposed visit by the vessel comes when Sri Lanka is grappling with a severe economic crisis.
India has been at the forefront of extending economic assistance to Sri Lanka as it is grappling with the worst economic crisis since 1948.
As the new Sri Lankan president looks at pulling the country out of its economic crisis, India last week said that it will continue to assist the island nation and support its people in their quest for stability and prosperity.