A Chinese research vessel, the Yuan Wang 5, is heading for Sri Lanka and is expected to dock at the port of Hambantota in mid-August. The ship is expected to call for ‘resupply’ but India has legitimate security concerns
After denying reports of the arrival of a Chinese research vessel, Sri Lanka confirmed that the vessel had requested permission to dock at the port of Hambantota in August. Image Courtesy: brisl.org
Sri Lanka’s close ties with China have made India pissed off time and time again. Now, even as the island nation is in the throes of its worst economic crisis, blamed by experts on Beijing’s ‘debt trap diplomacy’, its recent decision to allow a Chinese research vessel to dock at the port of Hambantota raised eyebrows.
India is on high alert and the navy is closely monitoring the ship’s movements.
What do we know about the Chinese ship?
The Chinese research vessel “Yuan Wang 5” is expected to dock at the port of Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka in mid-August. He would be involved in space and satellite tracking.
The Yuan Wang 5 left the Chinese port of Jiangyin on July 13 and after crossing the East China Sea, it is scheduled to dock in Sri Lanka from August 11 to 17.
The stopover in Sri Lanka will be made for “resupply” while the ship continues to carry out space and satellite monitoring and research activities in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean region, according to a report published in The Hindu.
The ship was built in 2007; its total length is 222 meters and its width is 25.2 meters.
Yuan Wang series third generation follower ship, it was built by Jiangnan Shipyard. The Yuan Wang class is not a single class of identical designs but a group of different designs placed under the same series that share a name.
Why does the ship stop at Hambantota?
The ship will be in Hambantota mainly for resupply, including fuel, according to Sri Lankan Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Nalin Herath.
Located in the hometown of the ousted but influential Rajapaksa family, Hambantota Port was built largely with loans from China. The port, considered important due to its strategic location, was leased to China Merchant Port Holdings after Sri Lanka was unable to repay the loans. This raised fears of a potential use of the port for military purposes, according to a report published in The economic period.
After denying reports of the Chinese vessel docking, Sri Lanka has now said the country routinely grants clearance to commercial and military vessels. “We gave permission to the Chinese ship in this context,” Colonel Herath said.
“These ships periodically come from various countries such as India, China, Japan and Australia. It’s nothing unusual,” he said, but made no comment on Sri Lanka’s earlier denial of the ship’s entry.
However, a report in The footprint says the exact purpose of the ship’s docking at Hambantota is unclear. Whether it is heading to port for a stopover, refueling, logistics or signaling remains to be seen, the sources say.
Why is India worried?
According to the report, although the Yuan Wang 5 is not a military ship, these ships start their movements when China or any other country conducts missile tests.
The ship had an air range of over 750 kilometers. This means he can spy on Kalpakkam, Koodankulam and Atomic Research Center inside Indian borders. The ship can track ports in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and gather vital information about facilities in southern India, reports The economic period.
India has a strategic interest in the Indian Ocean region. The Chinese attempted to make inroads from Myanmar into East Africa, the report said.
On Sunday, Sri Lanka’s main Tamil minority party, the Tamil National Alliance, said China’s military presence in the Indian Ocean would give India a legitimate defense concern and that Colombo should not not accentuate this by providing space for the Chinese military presence.
“The Chinese tracking spacecraft Yuan Wang 5 entering the port of Hambantota on August 11 has again sparked tensions in the region. We do not take sides when it comes to power struggles between other countries,” TNA said in a statement.
What is India doing?
India said it was carefully monitoring any development impacting its security and economic interests. “We are aware of reports of a proposed visit by this vessel to Hambantota in August,” External Affairs Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said in New Delhi when asked about the reports of the docking of the ship. “The government is carefully monitoring any developments affecting India’s security and economic interests and taking all necessary measures to safeguard them.”
What is China saying?
After a statement from the MEA, China said it hoped “relevant parties” would refrain from interfering with its “legitimate maritime activities”, Reuters news agency reported.
Has this happened in the past?
India has in the past raised concerns about the presence of the Chinese military or suspected dual-purpose vessels in the Indian Ocean. In January 2020, four to six Chinese search vehicles were spotted in the Indian Ocean region, making the navy suspicious.
In 2019, the navy repelled a Chinese navy vessel Shi Yan 1, which had entered waters near the Andaman Islands, reports The Hindu.
In 2014, Sri Lanka authorized a Chinese Changzheng 2 nuclear submarine in Colombo and this led to diplomatic tensions with New Delhi. Former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was then Defense Ministry Secretary, traveled to India to meet National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to discuss the matter, the report said.
With contributions from agencies
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