Sri Lanka on Saturday cleared the arrival of Chinese space and satellite tracking vessel Yuan Wang 5 on August 16 at the southern Hambantota port, a day after New Delhi reiterated its security concerns over the vessel’s visit earlier scheduled on August 11.
Even as Colombo was put on a delicate diplomatic spot, dealing with two of its close partners with competing geostrategic interests in the island, Sri Lanka’s fresh approval, announced by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement, effectively points to a five-day postponement of the arrival of the Chinese ship, and a week’s stop as was earlier planned.
The Ministry said it held “extensive consultations” at a high level through diplomatic channels with “all parties” concerned, with a view to resolving the matter in a spirit of “friendship, mutual trust and constructive dialogue, taking into account the interests of all parties concerned”. While it said the developments were “in light of certain concerns raised with the Ministry”, it stopped short of naming India in its statement. “Having considered all material in place, on 13 August 2022 the clearance to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China was conveyed for the deferred arrival of the vessel from 16-22 August 2022,” the Ministry said, confirming the development, and the duration of the vessel to be berthed at the southern Hambantota Port.
Further, the Ministry stated that when it had cleared the scheduled visit earlier in July, it was based on the Defence Ministry’s conditions that the visiting Chinese vessel’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) be kept switched on within the EEZ of Sri Lanka and that no scientific research be conducted in Sri Lankan waters.
The development comes after New Delhi raised the matter with President Ranil Wickremesinghe, and made public remarks twice at the Ministry of External Affairs’s weekly briefing on July 28, and more recently, on Friday. India “carefully monitors any development having a bearing on its security and economic interests”, MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi earlier said, and on Friday “rejected insinuations” that Sri Lanka was “pressured”. New Delhi's remarks came days after China asked India to “not disturb normal exchanges” between Sri Lanka and China, and termed India’s security concerns over the vessel visit “senseless”.
India gifts Dornier aircraft
Meanwhile, the Indian Air force has gifted a Dornier 228 Maritime Patrol Aircraft to the Sri Lankan Air Force (SLAF), and another aircraft is to be donated within two years, SLAF has said. The aircraft is expected to be handed over in a formal ceremony on August 15, in the presence of Mr. Wickremesinghe. The gesture, according to the SLAF, was in response to a request made by the Sri Lankan government to India in 2018 for two Dornier reconnaissance aircrafts to enhance the island’s maritime surveillance capabilities.
In March this year, Sri Lanka’s Defence Ministry announced signing of two maritime pacts with India, through which Sri Lanka was to receive a Floating Dock Facility and a Dornier reconnaissance aircraft at no cost. The agreements “will not result in hindrance or threat to the national security of Sri Lanka,” the Defence Ministry then said, amid criticism from the political opposition over the apparent secrecy of the agreements, signed without any official announcement.