Following India, the U.S. has raised concern with the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration, over the scheduled visit of a Chinese research vessel to Sri Lanka in October, Colombo-based media has reported.
In a recent meeting with Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland took up the coming visit of Chinese research vessel Shi Yan 6 to Sri Lanka, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported on Monday. Reportedly, Mr. Sabry reassured the American official that Colombo would adhere to a “Standard Operating Procedure” that the government has recently finalised, for all foreign vessels intending to call at a Sri Lankan port.
New Delhi had recently raised the matter with a top Sri Lankan official, Colombo-based sources told The Hindu.
While Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence has made its recommendation on the vessel’s visit to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an official comment from the Foreign Ministry is awaited. According to local media, defence authorities have cleared the visit.
Earlier this month, China’s state-run news channel CGTN reported that “Chinese geophysical scientific research vessel Shiyan 6” or (Experiment 6) was heading out on an “expeditionary voyage” in the eastern area of the Indian Ocean, departing from Guangzhou, south China’s Guangdong Province. “Organised by the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology (SCSIO) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the vessel is scheduled to operate at sea for 80 days with 28 scientific research projects from 13 research teams onboard, covering a range of more than 12,000 nautical miles (roughly 22,200 km),” it said.
Sri Lanka’s National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA), said to be a partner in the vessel’s research activities in Sri Lankan waters, earlier stated that the data collected during the process would be in its possession. The research vessel’s scheduled visit will come months after another Chinese warship docked at the Colombo port for a few days. The visits assume significance after Chinese military ship Yuan Wang 5 arrived at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port in August last year, despite India and the U.S. expressing strong reservation at the time. China maintained that it was “completely unjustified for certain countries to cite the so-called ‘security concerns’ to pressure Sri Lanka”.
Colombo’s decision to allow the visit last year — after deferring it by five days — strained diplomatic ties with New Delhi, at a time when India extended unprecedented economic relief to the island nation that was experiencing its worst financial meltdown. Subsequently, President Wickremesinghe and top officials form the Sri Lankan side repeatedly sought to reassure India that Sri Lanka will ensure that its territory is not used for any activity that could threaten India’s security interests in the region.
Meanwhile, the High Commission of India in Colombo recently organised a curtain raiser to the Global Maritime India Summit (GMIS) to be held in India from October 17 to 19, 2023 in Mumbai. Sri Lanka’s Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva, who was Chief Guest at the event, emphasised the importance of “close collaboration, exchange of knowledge and adaptation of new technology for growth of the maritime sector”, according to a statement from the Indian mission.