China Seeks Urgent Meeting With Sri Lanka Over Visit of Research Ship: Report

China Seeks Urgent Meeting With Sri Lanka Over Visit of Research Ship: Report
The Grand Aurora vehicle carrier sits moored at Hambantota Port, operated by China Merchants Group, in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, on March 28, 2018. Under the overwhelming burden of the Chinese debt, the Sri Lankan government had to lease the port to Beijing for 99 years. (Atul Loke/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Aldgra Fredly

Chinese officials are reportedly seeking a meeting with top Sri Lankan officials after the Colombo government, citing security objections voiced by India, requested that the planned visit of a Chinese vessel be postponed.

Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry wrote to the Chinese Embassy on Aug. 5 asking that China defer the arrival of its space and satellite tracking research vessel Yuan Wang 5 to the port in Hambantota "until further consultations are made on this matter."

In response, the Chinese Embassy wants to discuss the matter with Sri Lankan officials, local media have reported, citing people who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe also met with Chinese ambassador Qi Zhenhong on Aug. 4, during which he reaffirmed the United Nations Charter principles of territorial integrity.

"Countries must refrain from provocations which further escalate the current global tensions," Wickremesinghe wrote in a post on Twitter, emphasizing the need for "mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of countries."

The crisis-hit nation had also initiated diplomatic talks with both India and China to reach "an amicable solution" regarding the vessel's arrival to avoid any potential clashes.

Sri Lanka's deferral request came after India warned that it would take "all necessary measures" to safeguard against the Chinese vessel, which is due to be in the Hambantota port from Aug. 11 to Aug. 17 for "refueling purposes." The Yuan Wang 5 ship is used to conduct “satellite control and research tracking of China's satellites in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean region through August and September," according to the Belt and Road initiative in Sri Lanka.
According to Marine Traffic, the research vessel departed Jiangyin, China, on July 13 and is currently in the East China Sea en route to Hambantota.

Local media reported that the former government had given approval on July 12 for the vessel to dock in the port, during mass protests that had thrown the government into turmoil.

The Sri Lankan government leased the strategic port to China for 99 years in 2017 after failing to repay $1.4 billion in loans.

India's Concerns

India is concerned that the Chinese-built and -leased port of Hambantota will be used by China as a military base in India's backyard. The $1.5 billion port sits near the main maritime shipping route from Asia to Europe.

Diplomatic relations between India and China have been strained since clashes in 2020 between troops along a remote Himalayan border. At least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed in the fighting, which led to a massive buildup of troops on both sides.

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said in May that while China had expressed hopes to restore normalcy with India, from India's perspective, the threat to the restoration of peace and tranquility on the border was ongoing aggressions by the Chinese regime.

“The frictions and tensions that arise from China’s deployments since April 2020 cannot be reconciled with a normal relationship between two neighbors,” Jaishankar told reporters.

China is one of Sri Lanka's biggest lenders and has also financed airports, roads, and railways, unsettling India. As Sri Lanka battles its worst economic crisis in seven decades, India this year alone has provided nearly $4 billion in support.

Reuters contributed to this report.