HAMBANTOTA, Sri Lanka — A Chinese scientific research vessel whose port call had previously been postponed due to apparent security concerns raised by India arrived at a southern port in Sri Lanka on Tuesday.
Yuan Wang 5 was welcomed by Sri Lankan port officials and Chinese shipping company officials at the port of Hambantota.
The ship was originally scheduled to arrive on August 11, but the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked for docking to be postponed until further consultations took place. The ministry said last weekend that the ship had been given permission to dock in Hambantota until August 22. It said the two sides had agreed that the ship would keep its identification systems on and not conduct research activities in Sri Lankan waters.
Sri Lanka said it was delaying the ship’s arrival due to concerns raised with the ministry, but did not identify who had done so. Security concerns from neighboring India about the ship’s proximity to its southern borders are likely to play a role.
India on Monday donated a maritime reconnaissance aircraft to Sri Lanka to bolster maritime security. The Indian embassy said Sri Lanka’s naval and air force personnel who India has trained will operate the plane with operational support from Indian personnel.
“The aircraft would act as a force multiplier, enabling Sri Lanka to more effectively address multiple challenges such as human and drug trafficking, smuggling and other organized crime in its coastal waters. The launch of the aircraft is timely given the current challenges to Sri Lanka’s maritime security,” the embassy said.
Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Arindam Bagchi said last week that India was aware of a planned visit by the ship and that it is closely monitoring any development affecting its security and economic interests and will take all measures. take to protect it.
China has struggled to expand its influence in Sri Lanka, which lies along one of the busiest shipping routes in what India considers part of its strategic backyard.
India has provided critical aid, including food, fuel, medicine and cooking gas, to the Indian Ocean nation as it grapples with economic collapse amid a severe currency crisis. At the same time, China’s agreement to restructure its infrastructure loans to Sri Lanka is vital for the country to achieve a bailout program with the International Monetary Fund.
China has lent Sri Lanka billions of dollars for development projects, some of which have been criticized for having little practical use. They include the port of Hambantota, which Sri Lanka leased to China in 2017 because it was unable to repay the loan.
“Given the geopolitical dynamism in the region and Sri Lanka’s great vulnerability on the economic front, Sri Lanka is playing with two fires at the diplomatic level,” said international business analyst Ranga Kalansooriya.
He said that while Sri Lanka is incapable of disregarding both regional powers, President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s job is not only to save the country’s economy but also to maintain a diplomatic balance.
Associated Press writer Krishan Francis contributed to the report from Colombo, Sri Lanka.
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