Sri Lanka asks China to defer visit of military ship to Hambantota port after India objects


Chinese space-satellite tracker ship Yuan Wang 5

Sri Lanka has asked China to defer the visit of its space-satellite tracker ship Yuan Wang 5 at Hambantota port “until further consultations” take place between the governments of the two countries. The Chinese spy ship was scheduled to dock at Hambantota on August 11 for refuelling and leave on August 17.

“In a note verbale on August 5, Sri Lankan foreign ministry have requested China to defer the August 11 arrival date of satellite tracker military ship Yuan Wang 5 until further consultations are made on this issue,” the Hindustan Times has reported.

The survey vessel departed from Jiangyin, China on July 13 and is currently sailing close to Taiwan where China is conducting live-fire military drills in  aggressive posturing against Taipei for allowing US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to visit the island. According to the MarineTraffic website, the ship currently is in the East China Sea between South Japan and northeast of Taiwan.

India is upset with Colombo for allowing the Chinese Space and Satellite Tracking ship Yuan Wang 5 to dock at Hambantota in Sri Lanka on August 11 despite serious objections over security concerns in the region from the Indian Navy.

The Chinese military ship while operating under the guise of a research and survey vessel is involved in ocean mapping, which is critical to anti-submarine operations by the Chinese PLA Navy, according to a report filed by senior journalist Shishir Gupta in the Hindustan Times.

The ship is also reported to have the capability of tracking satellites and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Colombo had failed to accede to India’s request at a time when the Modi government has gone out of its way to help Sri Lanka during the current economic crisis with a more than $3.5 billion lifeline for buying food, fuel and medicines.

The Sri Lanka regime under Ranil Wickremesinghe has given approval to satellite tracker military ship Yuan Wang 5 to dock at Hambantota from August 11 to 17 for refuelling, rest and recreation, and supplies.

It is understood that Sri Lanka was forced to allow the Chinese ship entry into Hambantota port after Beijing’s envoy to Colombo arm-twisted the Wickremesinghe regime and made it clear that denial of permission would adversely impact bilateral ties.

Sri Lanka is stuck in China’s debt trap as it has borrowed huge sums of money at high rates of interest for white elephant projects like the Hambantota port and an international airport which offer no commercial returns. As a result, the island nation is susceptible to pressure from Beijing. 

Indian Navy raising objections to the docking of the military surveillance ship, Sri Lankan Cabinet Spokesperson on August 2 went on record stating the strategic surveillance ship was only coming to refuel. “President told the cabinet that diplomatic efforts will be made to work with both the countries so as to not create any issues,” said spokesman Bandula Gunawardana.

However, New Delhi does not appear to be very convinced by the statement.