Chinese ‘spy ship’ docks at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port despite India’s security concerns

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A Chinese research vessel that India dubbed a ‘spy ship’ has docked at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port despite security concerns expressed by it.

The Yuan Wang 5 received a warm welcome from port workers at Hambantota who waved Chinese and Sri Lankan flags to mark the solidarity between the two countries. The vessel also displayed a large banner that read “Hello Sri Lanka”.

The ship was given permission to dock at the port on condition that it would not conduct any research on Sri Lankan waters.

Indian authorities had earlier expressed concern that the dual-use ship has the ability to spy on the Indian military’s activities in the region.

However, India’s federal ports, shipping and waterways minister Sarbananda Sonowal said on Sunday that the country was well equipped to handle any kind of challenges that may arise from the Chinese vessel’s docking in Sri Lanka.

“We are well equipped and well prepared to handle any kind of situation effectively under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. That is clear,” Mr Sonowal said.

His statement came a day after Sri Lanka granted permission to Yuan Wang 5 to anchor at the Hambantota port.

The vessel, with some 2,000 sailors on board and that can track satellites and intercontinental missiles, will remain at the Hambantota port till 22 August for “replenishment purposes”.

Yuan Wang 5, a Chinese scientific research ship, arrives at the port in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, Tuesday on 16 August 2022 after an earlier port call was deferred due to apparent security concerns (AP)
Yuan Wang 5, a Chinese scientific research ship, arrives at the port in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, Tuesday on 16 August 2022 after an earlier port call was deferred due to apparent security concerns (AP)

The website Marine Traffic describes the Yuan Wang 5 as a “research/survey vessel that was built in 2007 and is sailing under the flag of China”.

After India expressed its security concerns, Sri Lanka initially refused permission for the vessel to anchor at the port.

However, when China protested the “completely unjustified” calls for delay issued by “other countries” — without naming India — Sri Lanka finally granted permission to Yuan Wang 5.

On 13 August, a Sri Lankan foreign ministry statement said Colombo held extensive consultations about “certain concerns” and that the government had engaged in “extensive" consultations with “all parties concerned” with a “view to resolving the matter in a spirit of friendship, mutual trust and constructive dialogue”.

“Let me just say that the government carefully monitors any development having a bearing on India’s security and economic interests and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them. I think that should be a clear message,” said Arindam Bagchi, the spokesperson for the India’s external affairs ministry, last month.

Hambantota port was leased to China in 2017 for 99 years after Colombo failed to pay debts related to the construction of the facility.

On Tuesday, China’s ministry of foreign affairs said the ship is conducting scientific research “in accordance with international law”.

It “does not affect the security and economic interests of any country, and should not be interfered with by third parties,” said spokesperson Wang Wenbin.