Yuan Wang 5 docks at Hambantota Port

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The Chinese surveillance ship Yuan Wang 5 arrived at the Hambantota Port yesterday (16) morning at about 8:00 a.m. after nearly a week’s stand-off due to alleged conflicts with India.

However, Chinese Ambassador Qi Zhenhong, who welcomed the vessel at the Hambantota International Port (HIP), said this was not the first time such a ship had visited Colombo, and that a similar vessel made a port call in Colombo in 2014 and such port calls are “natural” for surveillance ships.

The vessel, which is a space-tracking ship, to monitor satellite, rocket, and intercontinental ballistic missile launches arrived to conduct satellite research in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean Region, reached HIP for replenishment, and would be docked for the next six days, and many Sri Lankan and international media arrived at the Port berth area to cover the event, however, no one was permitted to board the ship, as it is a surveillance ship.

The Chinese Ambassador added that the arrival of the vessel was nothing special and the vessel came smoothly to HIP and Sri Lanka and China have a longstanding friendship and the arrival of a scientific research vessel such as Yuan Wang 5 is very natural. He added that the questioning on the delay of vessel and the concerns by India should be addressed to the Indian friends.

“Everybody knows why the delay occurred and I don’t have to explain about the delay.” The ship was supposed to arrive on 11 August. The ship was given a ‘diplomatic clearance’ to visit Sri Lanka, but it later told the Chinese to ‘defer’ coming to the HIP due to pressure from India that said it’s a threat to their national security. India said its Sri Lanka’s call and rejected categorically that there was any insinuation. “Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and makes its own independent decisions,” said Official Spokesperson, Ministry of External Affairs, India, Arindam Bagchi. 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 waters.

Ambassador Zhenhong further said HIP as a key cooperation project of Belt and Road Initiative, has become an important engine to help Sri Lanka’s economic recovery and enhance its independent development capability. He added that the visit of Yuan Wang 5 left its own marks for the celebration of the 65th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Sri Lanka and the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Rubber-Rice Pact, highlighting the deep-rooted traditional friendship between China and Sri Lanka.

Captain Zhang Hongwang of Yuan Wang 5 said, “HIP is an international port that accommodates multinational ships. HIP will provide us with necessary ship supplies in accordance with international practice. We believe the ship’s call at HIP will deepen the exchange between China and Sri Lanka in the field of space science and technology and promote the common progress of the space industry of the two countries. It will also deepen the connection between China and Sri Lanka and further grow the friendship between people of both countries.”

Meanwhile, Hambantota International Port Group (HIPG), which operates the HIP under China Merchants Port on a 99-year lease for China, requested many local journalists to register with them to see the vessel from afar with their national card, media accreditation number, and other personal details, however, they also wanted the scribes to apply for approval from the Navy and Sri Lanka Customs, which was a ‘failure’ because many could not contact the officials for approval, as they did not know who they were. Despite having collected all personal information from the media, the HIPG invitation did not specify when they may visit to see the vessel or how transportation would be arranged.

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan