Sri Lanka on Saturday said it agreed to allow the Chinese survey vessel Yuan Wang 5 to tomorrow dock at its southernmost port, the Chinese-run Hambantota, despite security concerns raised by neighboring India and the US.
Foreign security analysts describe the Yuan Wang 5, which is to dock in Sri Lanka until Monday next week, as one of China’s latest generation space-tracking ships, used to monitor satellite, rocket and intercontinental ballistic missile launches.
Sri Lanka cleared the ship after the government “engaged in extensive consultations at a high level through diplomatic channels with all parties concerned,” including seeking “further information and material,” the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
The South Asian island nation is experiencing political and economic turmoil after defaulting on debt for the first time and has endured months-long protests. The government previously deferred a request by the Chinese embassy on June 28 to allow the ship a port call in the middle of this month for replenishment purposes.
The earlier postponement was made after “certain concerns” were raised, the ministry said, adding that the ship would not be allowed to conduct scientific research within Sri Lankan waters and must keep its automatic identification system on within its exclusive economic zone.
“It is Sri Lanka’s intention to safeguard the legitimate interests of all countries, in keeping with its international obligations,” it said, reiterating its “policy of cooperation and friendship with all countries.”
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs on July 28 said in regards to the ship that it was carefully monitoring any development that might have a bearing on India’s security and economic interests, and “takes all necessary measures to safeguard them.”
The US has also been lobbying the government to revoke Chinese access to the port, the Washington Post previously reported, citing an unnamed Sri Lankan official.
India and the US say that allowing the visit would be viewed as giving special treatment to China when the country is seeking to renegotiate its debt and seek a bailout from the IMF, the Post said.
The Pentagon said that Yuan Wang ships are operated by the Strategic Support Force of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
Separately, Thailand and China yesterday started joint air force exercises, the kingdom’s military said, the first such drills in years following a pause forced by COVID-19.
The “Falcon Strike” exercise came after China’s biggest-ever military drills around Taiwan, which were conducted in retaliation to a visit there by US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Royal Thai Air Force Chief Marshall Prapas Sornchaidee said “Falcon Strike,” which ends on Thursday next week 25 in the northeast of the country, was meant to “strengthen relations and understanding” with China.
The visiting Chinese contingent would include fighter jets, bombers and airborne early-warning planes, the Chinese Minister of National Defense said last week.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg and AFP
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