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Sri Lanka: a Chinese research vessel accused of spying by India



UA Chinese research vessel docked in the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota, under Chinese management, on Tuesday (August 16th), port authorities announced, despite concerns from India and the United States which fear that China will engaging in espionage activities. The Yuan Wang 5 was welcomed by traditional dancers and percussionists as well as several deputies, on a red carpet.

Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong told reporters at the ceremony that the Yuan Wang 5’s visit was part of “normal exchanges between the two countries”. “China and Sri Lanka enjoy an exceptional friendship,” he added.

“Long live the friendship between China and Sri Lanka,” read a red and white banner hung from the upper deck of the white ship, equipped with four towering satellite dishes. Men in white shirts and black trousers waved Chinese and Sri Lankan flags during docking maneuvers.

The Yuan Wang 5 was allowed to dock on the condition that it conduct no research while in Sri Lankan waters, port officials said, after consultations with India, the United States and China. China.

“Compliant with international law”

The boat will also be required to keep its Automatic Identification System (AIS) turned on in Sri Lanka’s Exclusive Economic Zone. It is presented by specialized sites as a “research and study” vessel but, according to the Indian channel CNN-News18, it is a dual-purpose spy vessel, used for monitoring the space and satellites and used specifically for intercontinental ballistic missile launches.

In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry argued on Tuesday that the Yuan Wang 5’s marine research activities were “in accordance with international law and international practice”.

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“They do not harm the security or economic interests of any country, said spokesman Wang Wenbin, third parties do not have to interfere. The Yuan Wang 5 left Jiangyin in China on July 13 and was originally scheduled to call on August 11 at the port of Hambantota, run by a Chinese company.

But Colombo had to postpone his arrival in the face of Indian protests. On Saturday, after intense diplomatic negotiations, Colombo turned around and announced that it had authorized the boat to dock at Hambantota and stay there until August 22. India is concerned about the growing influence of China in Sri Lanka, which has run into heavy debt over the years with Beijing, to develop major infrastructure projects.

Debt burden

In 2017, Colombo found itself unable to service its $1.4 billion debt contracted with Beijing for the construction of Hambantota and had to cede the port for 99 years to a Chinese company. China remains Sri Lanka’s main bilateral creditor, holding more than 10% of its external debt. Sri Lanka, which defaulted on its $51 billion foreign debt in mid-April, is in negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a possible bailout.

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Beijing’s support is essential so that the country, plunged into a serious economic crisis, can restructure its debt before being able to claim IMF aid. The island has faced severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine since late 2021 due to a lack of foreign currency to finance essential imports.

indian gift

At the beginning of the month, the Sri Lankan authorities had sought to reassure India by affirming that the Chinese ship was coming to refuel, in particular fuel, and would not engage in any activity. Manusha Nanayakkara, cabinet minister, said Chinese research vessels had already made 18 such visits to Sri Lanka.

New Delhi had warned against “any impact on the security and economic interests of India (which) would take all necessary measures to safeguard them”. Sri Lankan government spokesman Bandula Gunawardena said the cabinet wanted to respond “diplomatically” to New Delhi’s “concerns”.

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“India and China are both helping us in this really crucial time when we are facing an unprecedented economic crisis,” he said. On Monday, the eve of the ship’s arrival, India offered Sri Lanka a Dornier 228 aircraft to boost its maritime surveillance capabilities. The device is loaded with equipment to monitor and jam electronic signals.




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