Sri Lanka asks China to delay arrival of ‘satellite-tracking’ ship after pressure from India, reports say

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Sri Lanka has asked China to delay the arrival of its survey ship “until further consultations” are made on the matter following pressure from India, according to reports.

Yuan Wang 5, the research vessel involved in space and satellite tracking, is en route from the Chinese port of Jiangyin and was due to reach the Chinese-run Sri Lankan Hambantota port on 11 August, according to analytics website MarineTraffic.

After initially denying reports about the arrival of the Chinese survey vessel and following India’s message about its “carefully monitoring” the development, Sri Lanka’s defence ministry confirmed the vessel had sought clearance.

On Saturday, the Sri Lanka foreign ministry told the Chinese embassy in Colombo in a written request to not go ahead with the ship’s visit, according to news agency AFP.

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

The vessel’s arrival was highlighted in a blog post by Belt and Road Initiative Sri Lanka, a Colombo-based organisation studying China’s ambitious connectivity project.

“The Chinese scientific research vessel ‘Yuan Wang’ will enter Hambantota port on August 11 for a week and it is expected to leave on August 17 after replenishment,” said the post.

It noted that the vessel was expected to conduct “satellite control and research tracking of China’s satellites” in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean region “through August and September”, adding that the ship’s arrival would be an “excellent opportunity” for Sri Lanka to learn and develop their own space programme.

However, a Sri Lankan defence ministry spokesperson told The Hindu that the vessel was mainly arriving at the port for “replenishment, including fuel”.

India is wary of China’s growing influence in neighbouring Sri Lanka and on suspicious dual-purpose vessels in the Indian ocean.

“We are aware of reports of a proposed visit by this vessel at Hambantota port in August. Let me just say that government carefully monitors any development having a bearing on India’s security and economic interests and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them,” Arindam Bagchi, the official spokesperson of India’s foreign ministry said last month.