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Colombo asks Beijing to Dely visit of spy ship at Hambantota


Sri Lanka has asked China to indefinitely delay a visit by a ship following intense pressure from India, official sources said Saturday.

The Yuan Wang 5 is en route from the Chinese port of Jiangyin and due in the Chinese-run Sri Lankan port of Hambantota on Thursday, according to the analytics website MarineTraffic.

It is described as a research and survey vessel, but it can be employed for space and satellite tracking and with specific usage in intercontinental ballistic missile launches.

Some media reports said that New Delhi was worried the vessel would be used to spy on its activities and that it had lodged a complaint with Colombo.

India remains suspicious of China's growing influence in its southern neighbor Sri Lanka.

The foreign ministry last week said that it will closely monitor "any bearing on India's security and economic interests and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them".

In a written request, the Sri Lanka foreign ministry told the Chinese embassy in Colombo not to go ahead with the visit, an official involved in the process told AFP on Saturday.

"The ministry wishes to request that the arrival date of the vessel Yuan Wang 5 in Hambantota be deferred until further consultations are made on this matter," the request says.

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe assured political party leaders on Friday that the controversial visit will not go ahead as planned.

Earlier this week, Colombo appeared to brush aside Indian concerns, saying the vessel was coming only to refuel and replenish supplies and would not undertake any work in Sri Lankan waters.

India objected strongly when two Chinese submarines berthed in Sri Lanka in 2014.

Former president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, whose brother Mahinda Rajapaksa borrowed heavily from China while president from 2005 to 2015, was forced to resign last month over Sri Lanka's worst-ever economic crisis, which is ongoing.

“until further consultations” are made between the two governments. The spy ship was scheduled to dock at Chinese leased Hambantota port on August 11 for refueling and leave on August 17. also said in a statement.

Designated as a research stroke survey vessel, Yuan Wang 5 was built in 2007 and has a carrying capacity of 11,000 tonnes. The survey vessel departed from Jiangyin, China on July 13 and is currently sailing close to Taiwan where China is conducting live-fire drills as an aggressive posture against Taipei for allowing US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to visit the self-ruled island. According to the MarineTraffic website, the ship currently is in the East China Sea between South Japan and northeast Taiwan.

According to diplomats based in Colombo, the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry sent a note verbale to the Embassy of China referring to a Ministry’s note on July 12, 2022, conveying clearances for vessel Yuan Wang 5 to enter the port of Hambantota for “replenishment purposes.”

Despite India's security concerns over the docking of the vessel at Hambantota as it was shown as a research vessel while the spy ship can map the ocean bed which is critical to anti-submarine operations of the Chinese Navy. It is understood that the Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka muscled his way with the Sri Lankan government and said that denial of permission to the vessel would have an impact on bilateral ties.

While the Cabinet Spokesperson of the Ranil Wickremesinghe government on August 2 announced that the ship was being allowed for refueling, the Indian Navy also conveyed its serious security concerns to Colombo. India has stood shoulder to shoulder with Sri Lanka to tide over the present economic crisis faced by the island nation and has given more than USD 3.5 billion in aid in terms of petrol, diesel, natural gas, foodstuffs, and medicine.\

On August 5, the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry deferred the permission to allow the spy ship to dock at Hambantota port and conveyed it in writing to their Chinese Foreign Ministry counterparts through proper diplomatic channels.

The Sri Lankan decision of deferring the visit of the spy ship shows that it respects the security concern of its neighbor India despite the muscle power of China. Sri Lanka owes more than 10 percent of its external debt to China with Beijing granted a 99-year lease of Hambantota Port by Colombo in 2017.

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