India is concerned that the Hambantota port built and leased by China will be used by China as a military base in India’s backyard. This 1.5 billion dollar port is located near the main shipping route from Asia to Europe.
Shipping data from Refinitiv Eikon showed that the Chinese survey and mapping vessel Yuan Wang 5 was en route to Hambantota and was due to arrive on August 11, as Sri Lanka faces its worst economic crisis in seven decades. India has contributed nearly $4 billion to Sri Lanka this year alone.
A spokesman for India’s foreign ministry said at a weekly briefing late Thursday that the government was monitoring the planned voyage of the Chinese ship, adding that New Delhi would protect its security and economic interests.
Reuters reported on Thursday that India had already lodged an oral protest with the Sri Lankan government against the ship’s visit.
In response to questions from Reuters, China’s foreign ministry said Beijing has always used freedom of the high seas legally.
The ministry said in a statement: China hopes that relevant parties will properly observe and report China’s marine scientific research activities and refrain from interfering with normal and legal marine activities.
Relations between India and China have been strained since armed clashes on their border two years ago left at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers dead and led to massive troop buildups on both sides.
Foreign security analysts describe the Yuan Wang 5 as one of China’s latest generation of space tracking ships, used to monitor the launch of satellites, missiles and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military modernization says the Yuan Wang ships are operated by the Strategic Support Force of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
A Sri Lankan consulting firm, Belt & Road Initiative Sri Lanka, said on its website that Yuan Wang 5 will be in Hambantota for a week and will “conduct space tracking, satellite control and research tracking in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean region.” until August and September”.
In 2017, Sri Lanka handed over commercial operations at its main southern port to a Chinese company on a 99-year lease after struggling to repay its debt.
China is one of Sri Lanka’s biggest lenders and has also financed airports, roads and railways, unnerving India, which is now trying to regain lost ground.
Sri Lanka angered India in 2014 when it allowed a Chinese submarine and a warship to dock in Colombo.