By Syed Ali Mujtaba
A Chinese Ship Yuan Wang 5’ is scheduled to arrive at Hambantota port of Sri Lanka on August 11 and stay there till August 17. The Chinese ship is coming mainly for refueling and replenishment purposes. However, there is a huge apprehension in India about this highly sophisticated ship. This is because Yuan Wang 5’ can be used for eavesdropping and India is wary that the Chinese vessel can be on a spy mission on India.
Yuan Wang 5 is a third-generation tracking ship of the Yuan Wang Series. It has top-of-the-line antennas and electronic equipment to track missiles and rockets. This ship can oversee a distance of 750 kilometers which means all the strategic assets of India on its East Coast can be on the surveillance radar of this ship.
. New Delhi is quite apprehensive of the docking of the Chinese ship in Sri Lanka because this vessel has high-tech eavesdropping equipment that can reconnaissance the strategic assets positioned deep into the Indian Territory. India has expressed its concern about the Chinese Ship coming to Sri Lanka which in turn has asked the Chinese counterparts to defer this mission but China has a different take on this.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “I have noted relevant reports and would like to stress two points. First, Sri Lanka is a transportation hub in the Indian Ocean. Scientific research vessels from various countries including China have made port calls in Sri Lanka for replenishment. China always exercises freedom of the high seas in accordance with law and fully respects coastal countries’ jurisdiction over scientific research activities in waters under their jurisdiction.
Second, Sri Lanka is a sovereign country. It has the right to develop relations with other countries based on its development interests. To have normal cooperation is the independent choice made by our two countries. It serves the shared interests of both sides and does not target any third party.”
Without directly referring to India, Wang Wenbin added that it was “completely unjustified for certain countries to cite the so-called ‘security concerns’ to pressure Sri Lanka.”
In 2017, Sri Lanka handed over the southern port of Hambantota to China on a 99-year lease. The Sri Lankan government granted large tax concessions to the Chinese firms handling the port. Now Chinese are converting Hambantota into a major port in the Indian Ocean region. The port that overlooks the Indian Ocean is expected to play a key role in China’s Belt and Road initiative. It will link ports and roads between China and Europe.
This makes India vulnerable to China. There is suspicion in India that Sri Lanka by allowing the Chinese ship is alleviating India’s security concerns. Sri Lanka has clarified to India that the Chinese ship is a research-oriented vessel docking for replenishment purposes and has no military ambitions. The Chinese ship is sailing in the Indian Ocean region and will be docking at the Hambantota port as per schedule.
China has timed this activity precisely to exploit Sri Lanka’s economic crisis. The hidden agenda of China is not only to embarrass Sri Lankan but throw its bait at India and to encircle it as a part of its string of pearls policy. The purpose of China is to ensure that Lankan ports become Chinese naval bases and can be used to patrol the Indian Ocean region.
The docking of the Chinese ship in Hambantota port has a huge implication on Tamil Nadu which has a coastal area of 1,076 km. Kalpakan nuclear power plant, and Kudankulam nuclear power installations besides several other strategic assets of India. As a result, Tamil Nadu police have beefed up security in the coastal districts even before the Chinese vessel arrive in Sri Lanka on August 11.
Besides, Tamil Nadu police have received intelligence input from Delhi of a possible demonstration by pro-LTTE elements in the state against the arrival of the Chinese ship. It is also on guard against the possible entry of some LTTE sympathizers in the guise of Srilankan refugees. The state police have stepped up security of the coastal region as they apprehend some disruptions in the state due to the arrival of the Chinese ship.
This brings to focus India- Srilanka relations in the backdrop of the increasing Chinese presence in the Indian neighborhood. India has to be on guard of it because, after Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh, China is posing threat to India at the third and testing its naval capabilities by sending ships like Yuan Wang 5’ to Sri Lanka’s port.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org