Foreign Policy Watch: India-Sri Lanka

Controversial visit of a Chinese vessel to Hambantota


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Chinese takeover of Hambantota port

Much recently, Sri Lanka approved the arrival of a Chinese satellite-tracking vessel to its southern Chinese-funded Hambantota port.

Why in news?

  • India has raised concerns over the ship’s visit.
  • Caught in a delicate diplomatic and geopolitical spot, Colombo gave its nod despites India’s requests to deny the permission.
  • It is asserted that bankrupt Sri Lanka succumbed to Chinese pressure after initially refusing the ship to dock.

Yuan Wang 5: The vessel

  • Yuan Wang 5 was described by the Sri Lankan government as a “scientific research ship”.
  • The BRISL (Belt & Road Initiative Sri Lanka), a Colombo-based organisation studying China’s ambitious connectivity project, was the first to draw attention to the visit.
  • It said that the Yuan Wang 5 will conduct “satellite control and research tracking in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean Region”.
  • Vessels of the Yuan Wang class are said to be used for tracking and supporting satellite as well as intercontinental ballistic missiles by the People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force.

India’s reaction

  • India has expressed its concern over the Chinese vessel visit.
  • It is carefully monitoring any development having a bearing on its security and economic interests.

How have other countries reacted?

  • The developments showed that Colombo was caught between the U.S. and India on the one hand, and China on the other.
  • That too at a time when the Sri Lankan government is counting on all their support as the island nation, hit by a devastating economic crisis, embarks on debt restructuring ahead of a promised IMF package.

How did China respond?

  • China reacted strongly at Sri Lanka, following concerns voiced by India.
  • It clarified that Sri Lanka is a transportation hub in the Indian Ocean.
  • Scientific research vessels from various countries including China have made port calls in Sri Lanka for replenishment.
  • Secondly, it invoked Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and the right to develop relations with other countries based on its development interests.

What is Sri Lanka’s stand?

  • It is reported that the US and Indian envoys were asked to provide concrete reasons for their objections.
  • Not satisfied with the reasons being sufficient to refuse entry to the Chinese vessel, SL decided to inform the Chinese embassy in Colombo to inform the ship to continue its journey to Hambantota.


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