Following Sri Lanka’s surrender to Indian pressure, China request an urgent meeting

After Colombo requested a deferment of the scheduled docking of a high-tech Chinese research vessel at the major Hambantota port over which India raised reservations, sources claimed that China’s embassy here has requested an immediate meeting with senior Sri Lankan authorities.

The Chinese space and satellite monitoring research vessel “Yuan Wang 5” was due to dock at the Hambantota Port from August 11 to August 17, weeks after Sri Lanka experienced significant political unrest as a result of widespread mass protests over the nation’s worst economic crisis in decades.

The Chinese embassy in Colombo received the following “third-person” note from the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry on August 5: “The ministry wishes to request that the arrival of the vessel Yuan Wang 5 in Hambantota be deferred until further consultations are made on the matter.”

Following Sri Lanka's surrender to Indian pressure, China requests an urgent meeting

According to various media reports, India had protested to Sri Lanka because it was concerned the ship might be used to spy on its operations.

According to local reports, after receiving the note from the foreign ministry asking for a postponement of the visit, the Chinese embassy in Colombo requested an urgent meeting with the higher Sri Lankan authorities to resolve the matter.

Some Sri Lankan news outlets also said that when Colombo requested a postponement of the scheduled docking, President Ranil Wickremesinghe of Sri Lanka met privately with China’s Ambassador Qi Zhenhong.

The President’s Office, however, refuted the meeting report in the media.

The Chinese ship’s docking at the Hambantota port was authorized by the then-government on July 12 despite the political unrest in Sri Lanka.

The Chinese ship was scheduled to dock at the port in Sri Lanka for “refueling and “replenishment,” and it will operate satellite control and research tracking in the northwest Indian Ocean region throughout August and September.

Due to its position, the southern deep-sea port of Hambantota is regarded as strategically significant. The port, which is situated near the Rajapaksa family’s hometown, was substantially expanded with Chinese funding.

Indian authorities reportedly warned Sri Lanka that the landing of the advanced Chinese research vessel might endanger that country’s security, according to local media sources.

India sent Sri Lanka strong protest letters after learning that the ship was able to track satellites and intercontinental ballistic missiles, according to the report.

According to India, it carefully monitors every development that could have an impact on its economic and security 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 last month.

The likelihood that the ship’s tracking equipment could try to snoop on Indian installations while it is traveling to the port in Sri Lanka worries New Delhi.

India has historically viewed Chinese military warships in the Indian Ocean with skepticism and has previously objected to such engagements with Sri Lanka.

India and Sri Lanka’s relationship deteriorated when Colombo allowed a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine to anchor in one of its ports in 2014.

China has made the most infrastructure investments of any creditor to Sri Lanka. The success of the island in the ongoing bailout negotiations with the International Monetary Fund would depend on the debt restructuring of Chinese loans.

In contrast, India has provided Sri Lanka with a lifeline during its recent economic crisis.

As the island nation struggles with the biggest economic crisis since gaining independence in 1948, India has been at the forefront of providing Sri Lanka with approximately USD 4 billion in economic support.

India has pledged to continue helping the island nation and its people in their efforts to achieve stability and prosperity as the new president of Sri Lanka works to end the nation’s economic crisis.

Last week, Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena stated that his country was eager to resolve the ship’s visit issue by a “approach of friendship.”

India is particularly worried about the port of Hambantota. After Sri Lanka failed to meet its debt repayment obligations in 2017, Colombo leased the southern port to China Merchant Port Holdings for 99 years, raising concerns about the port’s potential use for military purposes.

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