India Rejects Claim it Pressured SL

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India rejected claims that it has pressurised Sri Lanka over not allowing the research ship Yuan Wang 5 to arrive at Hambantota Port early this week. “We reject categorically the ‘insinuation’ and such statement about India. Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and makes its own independent decisions, said Official Spokesperson, Ministry of External Affairs, India, Arindam Bagchi yesterday (12).

Sri Lanka has only postponed the arrival of the ship at Hambantota so far.

Regarding India’s security concerns, he said, it’s the sovereign right of each country and India would make the best judgment in their own interest and it naturally takes into account the prevailing situation in the region, especially in their water areas.

In the context of China-India relations we have consistently maintained that we treat others with mutual respect sensitivity and future interest, he added.

On 9 August, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin referred to the halting of the vessel entering Hambantota Port, it is “completely unjustified” for certain countries to cite so-called “security concerns” to put pressure on Sri Lanka. He was hinting at India without mentioning the name. Diplomatic clearance for the Chinese vessel to make a call at the Hambantota Port from 11-17 August, for replenishment purposes, was conveyed by the Ministry to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Colombo on 12 July, which the Government approved. Subsequently, in light of the need for further consultations, the Ministry has communicated to the Embassy of China in Colombo to defer the visit of the said vessel to the Hambantota Port, the Foreign Ministry said.

The Chinese spokesperson urged the relevant parties to see China’s marine scientific research activities in a rational light and stop disrupting normal exchanges and cooperation between China and Sri Lanka.

Bagchi said, as far as India-Sri Lanka relations are concerned, India has extended, under Neighbourhood First policy, an unprecedented support of USD 3.8 billion over the serious economic situation and supports Sri Lanka’s democracy stability and economic recovery.

The vessel had slowed down its voyage since Thursday (11) according to the latest satellite imagery, after Sri Lanka withdrew its berthing permission

The Indian media, referring to sources in the Indian defence and security establishment said the destination of the vessel continues to be the Lankan port.

According to reports, the ship was last seen near India’s maritime border, on the country’s eastern side, not far from Visakhapatnam, but near Chennai. However, the course has now changed, and it is still unknown where the ship will go. It is presently travelling along the Hambantota side of the southern eastern waters.

China constructed Hambantota Port and assumed ownership through a 100-year lease after Sri Lanka was unable to make payments, but this does not entitle it to dock its ships, as observed by Harbour Master, Captain Nirmal de Silva. Even after the Chinese ship received official consent through the Foreign Ministry’s diplomatic channels, Captain de Silva stated that as the Harbour Master he must still authorise the ship’s docking in any Sri Lankan port.

The Harbour Master further said any ship, whether commercial or warship, has to obtain permission to enter any port. According to reports, Chinese officials had held another round of talks to obtain clearance, but they were not granted but deferred.

The postponement means they can ask for permission again, which will have to be fresh approval from the Government’s diplomatic channel as well as from the Harbour Master, Captain de Silva said.

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan