Sri Lanka Brushes Aside Indian 'Spying' Concerns Over Chinese Ship

© Photo : Deneth17 / Port of Hambantota
Port of Hambantota - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.08.2022
Colombo defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in April, exacerbating months of political turmoil which culminated in the fleeing of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to Singapore last month. During this time, India backed the country, extending more than $3 billion in loans and credit lines. Colombo also owes China over $7 billion.
Sri Lanka dismissed India's concerns over the impending arrival of a Chinese ship at the country's Hambantota Port on Tuesday, declaring the vessel will only halt at the southern deep-sea port for replenishment and refueling.
The ship is slated to dock at the strategically located port on August 11 and undertake satellite surveys and research in the vast Indian Ocean Region (IOR) thereafter.
Reports in the Indian press, however, suggest that Delhi has lodged a complaint with Sri Lankan authorities as it believes that the ship is a surveillance vessel that is being brought to the island to spy on Indian activities, especially military maneuvers in the IOR.
Indian TV network CNN-News18 has said that the Chinese vessel named Yuan Wang 5 was a dual-use spy ship, often used for tracking enemy satellites and launching intercontinental ballistic missiles.
However, Sri Lanka government spokesperson Bandula Gunawardena brushed aside these claims, reinforcing the country’s friendship with both countries.
"Both India and China are helping us at this very crucial time when we are facing an unprecedented economic crisis," he said.
"The president [Ranil Wickremesinghe] informed the cabinet that this matter will be diplomatically resolved by talking to all sides. Both are important friends."
Gunawardena informed that the ship will stay at the port for around seven days, where it will be allowed to take fuel and supply of essentials like food and water, but won't be given permission to carry out any other work inside Sri Lankan waters.
Another minister in President Wickremesinghe's newly-formed cabinet, Manusha Nanayakkara, told reporters that Sri Lanka was only giving Yuan Wang 5 permission to anchor in Hambantota.
Delhi looks at Chinese activities in the IOR with suspicion, especially around Sri Lanka, and said last week that it will closely monitor the ship's visit because it has a "bearing on India's security and economic interests.” Delhi also professed to “take all necessary measures to safeguard" these interests.
China is Sri Lanka’s biggest foreign lender, providing $1.4 billion for the Hambantota Port and another $200 million for a nearby airport. In total, Sri Lanka owes Chinese lenders over $7 billion, which they have to repay by the end of the year.
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