A Chinese navy ship arrived at a Beijing-built port in South Sri Lanka Tuesday, after being blocked from entering due to security issues disputed by India.
The Yuan Wang 5 sailed into Hambantota port and was greeted by Sri Lankan and Chinese officials in the morning. The development sparked concern in India, which views China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean with suspicion.
Sri Lanka calls the Yuan Wang 5 a “scientific research vessel”, but there are concerns in India that it could be used to monitor the region. Several media reports in India referred to it as a “dual function spy ship”.
“The Yuan Wang 5 is a powerful tracking ship whose signal range is significant, which is about 750 km. This means ports in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh could be on China’s radar,” the Indian Express newspaper wrote.
This latest development reflects India and China’s fierce rivalry over the small island nation. For more than a decade, Sri Lanka’s strategic location on the Indian Ocean and along one of the busiest shipping routes has seen the two countries compete for influence.
For years, Beijing was widely seen as having the upper hand with free-flowing loans and infrastructure investment. But Sri Lanka’s economic collapse provided an opportunity for India to gain more influence, as New Delhi stepped in with huge financial and material aid to its neighbour.
The ship has permission to dock at Hambantota until August 22, Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry said over the weekend. The ministry added that China agreed the vessel would keep its identification system activated and would not carry out any research activities while in Sri Lankan waters. [ab/uh]