China has requested permission for a research vessel to dock in Sri Lanka, Colombo said Tuesday (22/8).
Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Priyanga Wickramasinghe said Beijing had requested permission for the Shi Yan 6 to dock, but no date had been set and the request was being processed.
Chinese television station CGTN called the Shi Yan 6 a “scientific research vessel” with a crew of 60 people carrying out tests of oceanography, marine geology and marine ecology.
Last year, India raised concerns over the visit of a Chinese research vessel, the Yuan Wang 5, at Hambantota Port, Sri Lanka. The ship, which specializes in tracking spacecraft, is described by New Delhi as a spy ship.
Sri Lankan port workers hold the Chinese national flag to greet the Chinese research vessel Yuan Wang 5 as it arrives at Hambantota International Port in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. (Photo: AP)
India is suspicious of China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is strategically located in the middle of the main east-west international shipping routes.
Last year, Colombo sought to address New Delhi’s concerns by asking China not to engage in any research activities while in Sri Lankan waters.
The Hambantota Port has been operated by China since 2017, after agreeing to lease it for 99 years for $1.12 billion. Sri Lanka alone paid a Chinese company to build the port at $1.4 billion.
China last year said it was “absolutely unjustifiable for certain countries” to use “security reasons” to pressure Sri Lanka.
Beijing is crucial to Colombo’s efforts to restructure its foreign loans. About 52 percent of Sri Lanka’s foreign loans come from China.
Colombo defaulted on its $46 billion external debt in April 2022, and had to restructure its finances as part of conditions for a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). (ab/uh)