Sri Lanka allows controversial Chinese ship visit – Reuters

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka granted port access to a controversial Chinese research vessel on Saturday, the Foreign Ministry said, despite concerns from neighboring India that it could spy on military installations in New York. Delhi.

The Yuan Wang 5 is described as a research and survey vessel by international shipping and analysis sites, but according to Indian media it is a dual purpose spy vessel.

New Delhi is wary of Beijing’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in Sri Lanka, seeing them as firmly within its sphere of influence.

The Yuan Wang 5 was originally scheduled to call at the port of Hambantota, Sri Lanka, on Thursday, but Colombo has asked Beijing to postpone the visit indefinitely over objections from India.

But the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry said the ship was cleared to dock at Hambantota on Tuesday and stay for six days.

He is required to keep his automatic identification system (AIS) on while in Sri Lanka’s exclusive economic zone and is not permitted to conduct scientific research in Sri Lankan waters, the ministry added. .

Sri Lanka’s port master, Nirmal P. Silva, told AFP: “I received diplomatic clearance today. We will work with the ship’s designated local agent to provide port logistics. Colombo initially granted clearance for the Chinese vessel on July 12, a day before President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled after months of protests over the country’s worst economic crisis.

Rajapaksa – whose brother Mahinda borrowed heavily from China when he was president from 2005 to 2015 – resigned after escaping to Singapore.

Tens of thousands of protesters swarmed Rajapaksa’s palace and home in Colombo after accusing him of mismanagement in an economic crisis that has led to severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine.

The new government led by Ranil Wickremesinghe withdrew stopover permission last week pending “consultations” with India as well as the United States, which had raised security concerns in the region.

The Foreign Ministry said it had resolved the issue “in a spirit of friendship”, with Sri Lanka in need of international help.

– Trade routes –

Port officials said the Chinese ship was about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) southeast of Sri Lanka on Friday evening and was slowly heading towards the deep-water port of Hambantota.

Sri Lanka has leased the facility – close to major shipping routes from Asia to Europe – to China for 99 years for $1.12 billion, less than the $1.4 billion the Sri Lanka paid a Chinese company to build it.

According to Indian reports, the Yuan Wang 5 could be used for space and satellite tracking, and has specific uses in intercontinental ballistic missile launches.

The Indian government expressed concern that the ship could spy on its activities and filed a complaint with Colombo.

New Delhi’s foreign ministry said it will closely monitor “any impact on India’s security and economic interests and take all necessary measures to safeguard them.”

Even as clearance for the Chinese ship to enter Sri Lankan waters was announced, the Colombo Air Force said it had received a maritime surveillance plane from India.

He said the Dornier 228 patrol plane was loaned by the Indian naval fleet as part of a donation organized in 2018. The Sri Lankans will man the plane, but Indian instructors will supervise.

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