Chinese research ship Yuan Wang 5 docks at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port

Port staff at Hambantota gave an enthusiastic welcome to the Yuan Wang 5, waving Sri Lanka and China flags, whereas the ship displayed a big banner studying: “Hello Sri Lanka.”

However, the ship’s arrival seems to have aggravated tensions between New Delhi and Beijing, who’ve each spent billions of {dollars} on growth and offers with Sri Lanka, an island of twenty-two million those that sits on a key buying and selling route.

The Yuan Wang 5 had initially requested permission to dock on the port final week, however the go to was delayed after issues had been raised concerning the ship’s presence, although India denied placing any strain on Colombo.

China says the ship is used for scientific analysis, however the US Defense Department says the ship is below the command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and is able to monitoring satellites and missile launches.

On Saturday, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry mentioned the federal government had engaged in “extensive” consultations with “all parties concerned” with a “view to resolving the matter in a spirit of friendship, mutual trust and constructive dialogue.”

It mentioned the ship had been given permission to dock on the situation that no scientific analysis was carried out in Sri Lankan waters.

What is the ship?

The ship’s arrival on the Hambantota port was at all times going to be controversial — China leased the port from Sri Lanka in 2017 for 99 years after Colombo didn’t pay money owed associated to the development of the ability.

At the time, the deal raised issues that it might give China entry to a key transport route, placing it inside India’s conventional sphere of affect. And the presence of a ship full of superior know-how has made Sri Lanka’s neighbors nervous.

According to a US Defense Department report revealed final yr, the vessel is below the command of the PLA’s Strategic Support Force (SSF), “a theater command-level organization established to centralize the PLA’s strategic space, cyber, electronic, information, communications, and psychological warfare missions and capabilities.”

“The SSF also operates Yuan Wang space support ships that track satellite and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launches,” the US report mentioned.

Crew of Chinese scientific research ship Yuan Wang 5 wave their country's national flags from the ship after arriving at Hambantota International Port in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022.

Carl Schuster, a former US Navy captain and former director of operations on the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center, mentioned New Delhi’s concern concerning the ship’s presence in Sri Lanka was doubtless attributable to its monitoring capabilities.

“Spying is not her primary mission … her primary mission is satellite tracking and monitoring PRC rocket launches, telemetry, and satellite status … but that same capability can and often is employed to monitor other countries’ satellite operations, downlinks and missile telemetry,” he mentioned.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs mentioned on Tuesday the ship is conducting scientific analysis “in accordance with international law.”

It “does not affect the security and economic interests of any country, and should not be interfered with by third parties,” spokesman Wang Wenbin mentioned.

India-China tensions

The Yuan Wang 5 has turn out to be an emblem of rising tensions between India and China — each of which have financially supported Colombo because it experiences its worst monetary disaster in many years.
India has supplied crucial assistance to Sri Lanka because it suffers meals, gasoline and medication shortages, lending $4 billion in credit score strains.

China can also be a significant creditor of Sri Lanka, and is important to Sri Lanka’s efforts to restructure its debt to safe a bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

Relations between India and China have lengthy been tense, although in recent times a prolonged military standoff alongside their shared Himalayan border has claimed dozens of lives.
Meanwhile, India has grown closer to the United States in a bid to stability China’s more and more assertive stance within the Indo-Pacific. In October, Washington and New Delhi will maintain a joint army train lower than 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the disputed India-China border — additional straining ties between the 2 nuclear-armed powers.

In late July, India’s Ministry of Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi expressed concern over the Chinese vessel’s go to to Sri Lanka, telling reporters the “government carefully monitors any development having a bearing on India’s security and economic interests and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them.”

Satishkumar Namdeo Ghormade, Vice Chief of India's Naval Staff & Gopal Baglay, Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, along with dignitaries, as India gifts the island nation a reconnaissance aircraft on August 15, 2022.

On August 5, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs despatched a letter to the Embassy of China in Colombo deferring Yuan Wang 5’s arrival “until further consultations” had been made on the matter.

Three days later, with out naming India, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang mentioned “the brutal interference” in Sri Lanka’s overseas relations was “an act of taking advantage of someone when they are in danger, which is against the basic norms of international relations.”

India later rejected claims its issues had been the reason for delay within the ship docking, with Bagchi telling reporters final week, “Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and makes its own independent decisions.”

On Monday, India demonstrated the energy of its dedication to Sri Lanka, gifting the island nation a reconnaissance plane in a ceremony attended by the Sri Lankan President.

The reward of an plane “underscores the cooperation” between the maritime neighbors, India’s Ministry of External Affairs mentioned in an announcement.

China’s affect in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka presents the best trans-shipment hub for Chinese imports and exports — and stays “very strategic to India,” mentioned Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research.

Sri Lanka had been “caught between a rock and a hard place,” he mentioned, referring to India and China in no specific order.

“The Chinese had put pressure on them. The Indians had put pressure on them. And they cannot afford to lose any help. All countries which are small and economically weak will face these challenges if they are in a tough neighborhood.”

China has for many years invested in Sri Lanka when a lot of the worldwide group held again.

Sri Lanka crisis: How do you fix a broken country?

As many Western nations withheld funding to Sri Lanka over alleged human rights abuses throughout a decades-long civil struggle, which resulted in 2009, China equipped the previous Rajapaksa authorities with financial help, mentioned Ganeshan Wignaraja, senior analysis affiliate on the British suppose tank, ODI Global.

“Sri Lanka then thought it could use China as a vehicle for infrastructure-led economic development,” he mentioned.

Between 2005 and 2017, China spent nearly $15 billion in Sri Lanka, however because the island nation’s financial fortunes waned, it struggled to pay again its debt and the nations agreed on the long-term port deal.

Wignaraja mentioned by sending the Yuan Wang 5 to Hambantota port, it was testing the boundaries of that deal.

“China was testing the terms of the lease agreement by sending a craft which has satellites on board and has a highly advanced capability,” Wignaraja mentioned.

CNN’s Brad Lendon contributed reporting.

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