COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – After weeks of uncertainty, a Chinese surveillance vessel docked in Sri Lanka on Tuesday, raising tensions between neighboring India and China as Indian leaders Do is increasingly worried about Beijing’s expanding influence in the region.
The ship, part of the Yuan Wang family of ships that the Chinese military uses to track ballistic missile launches and satellites, is expected to refuel in a few days at the southern port of Hambantota. China holds 99 year port lease contract after Sri Lanka defaulted on Chinese loans to build it.
For Sri Lanka, where the government has struggled to pull country out of virtual bankruptcyChina’s docking request has deepened the island nation’s longstanding ties to navigating the two giant rivals.
China is Sri Lanka’s long-term development and construction ally, providing large loans for projects far beyond ports. India has provided nearly $4 billion in assistance to Sri Lanka in recent months as the country runs out of foreign exchange reserves to pay for imports of basic goods.
In a sign of its difficult position, the Sri Lankan government initially asked China to postpone the arrival of the vessel “until further consultations are made”. Then, last weekend, it said they would allow the boat to dock.
Some analysts in India, where there are concerns that the Chinese boat could be used to monitor locations in the south of the country, see Sri Lanka’s decision as a “Diplomatic slap. “
Officials from India and the United States, two members of an alliance known as the Quartet aimed at examining China’s growing influence in the region, have raised their concerns in both Colombo, the Sri capital. Lanka and in Cambodia during recent ministerial meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Sri Lankan officials told The New York Times.
India’s concerns about Chinese ships have increased tensions with Beijing trespassing on India’s land border in the Himalayas, where militaries have continued to wage war for more than two years after deadly skirmishes. The two sides failed to reach an agreement on the withdrawal of troops in the Ladakh area despite 16 rounds of negotiations.
Arindam Bagchi, a spokesman for India’s foreign ministry, said last month when there was a question about the Chinese ship.
Without naming India, China’s foreign ministry hit back, saying that it was “absolutely unjustified” by some countries citing so-called security concerns to pressure Sri Lanka. “
In the weeks that followed, Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry said it had engaged in “extensive consultations” with all stakeholders. After the government allowed China to dock, it downplayed it, noting that it had allowed naval vessels from many countries, including the United States and Japan, to do the same.
In a sign of India and China dancing for influence in the tiny island nation, India gifted a Dornier maritime surveillance plane to Sri Lanka just a day before the ship docked. Sri Lanka’s new president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, attended a ceremony marking the donation.
“The benefits of India’s development, the benefits of India’s strength, are all shared by our friends and neighbors,” said Gopal Baglay, India’s high commissioner in Colombo. at the ceremony.
The next day, Qi Zhenhong, China’s ambassador to Sri Lanka, called the Chinese ship’s docking “nothing special”.
“It is very natural and normal for a research and science vessel to visit Hambantota,” he said. “This is not the first time this type of vessel has visited Sri Lanka.”
When asked if the delay was due to Indian objections, he say: “I don’t know. Maybe this is life”.
Skandha Gunasekarareported from Colombo, and Mujib Mashal from New Delhi.