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In Order To Consolidate & Promote

It may be said that after dilly-dallying for quite some time, the Chinese surveillance ship, Yuan Wang-5, anchored at Hambantota port of Sri Lanka on August 16 (2022) morning. Prior to that, there was a lot of discussion among the international community regarding the anchoring of the Chinese vessel in the Sri Lankan port. Although Beijing claimed that the ship would be used for research and survey purposes, defence experts are of the opinion that the Asian Giant would carry out surveillance work through Yuan Wang-5, a Yuan Wang-class (or Long View) vessel for tracking and support of satellite and intercontinental ballistic missiles by the Strategic Support Force of China’s People’s Liberation Army.

As expected, the arrival of the Chinese spy ship at Hambantota port has sparked a diplomatic scuffle between China and India. New Delhi had objected to the anchoring of this ship in the Sri Lankan port since the beginning, and even the US had urged the tiny island nation not to allow China to anchor its ship in Hambantota. Initially, Sri Lanka, caught between two Asian rivals, did not agree to the entry of this ship. However, Colombo changed its decision later, and allowed the ship to dock at its Hambantota port, despite objections from India. In a statement, the Government of Sri Lanka said that the ship arrived at Hambantota port for a three-day stay, down from five.

Yuan Wang-5, the Chinese surveillance ship

Meanwhile, the Xi Jinping Administration in Beijing remained silent on the issue. For his part, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry Wang Wenbin stressed: “China and Sri Lanka are traditionally friendly and close neighbours. Over the years, the two countries have maintained close cooperation in marine scientific research.” He added: “China is willing to work with Sri Lanka to consolidate political mutual trust and promote the healthy and stable development of relations between the two countries.

The question arises here: Why did Sri Lanka do this (especially after India cleared a financial package of about USD 6.4 billion in a short period of time to save the island nation)? In fact, Colombo had no choice. On February 20 (2022), the Sri Lankan daily Ceylon Today reported that the previous Maithripala Sirisena Government had awarded the Hambantota port to China for a 99-year lease, with a provision for extension for another 99 years, after Colombo failed to repay the loan taken from Beijing for the development of the port. In other words, the port now belongs to China. Hence, Sri Lanka had to allow the Chinese ship to anchor at Hambantota, in spite of India’s objections.

Hambantota Harbour, Sri Lanka

One should not consider the development as India’s diplomatic defeat, as the Narendra Modi Administration in New Delhi had made only verbal objections after considering the ongoing political and economic turmoil in Sri Lanka. It was not possible for India to put Sri Lanka under too much diplomatic pressure. Sri Lanka is all set to receive a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Had Sri Lanka decided not to allow the Chinese vessel to anchor at Hambantota, China would have used veto in order to block the IMF loan, and Colombo would have been in deep trouble.

India’s long-term plan is to gradually free Sri Lanka from China’s Debt-Trap diplomacy. Hence, New Delhi needs to maintain cordial ties with Colombo. It may be noted that Sri Lanka (Nepal and Bhutan, as well) had approached China after India refused to help them in the past. This time, India, possibly, does not commit the same mistake.

Interestingly, when India realised that China would not listen to Sri Lanka’s objections, the former asked Colombo to seek some more time before allowing the ship to enter into the Sri Lankan water. India’s main purpose was to bring its own satellites and maritime assets, and surveillance ships, into position during this time so that they could monitor the movement of the Chinese ship, and to get sufficient time to jam the Chinese radars. Some satellite images have shown that the Chinese spy ship was roaming on the Indian Ocean, as it was unable to dock at Hambantota on August 11. During that time, India started blocking the signal, covering about 2,000sqkm of area.

It is not possible for common people to get hard links of these pieces of information, as neither China, nor India openly discusses such issues. However, there are some Twitter handles in India for covering a lot of defence-related news. These Twitter handles do not compromise with India’s National Security. They were the first to report this success story of Indian Diplomacy. Later, some defence news portals made this information public. Even the US did not publish the DNA test report of Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri after killing the al-Qaeda chief with a Hellfire missile in the Afghan capital of Kabul on July 31, 2022. Those who do all these do it for their nations, and not to give hard links of such events.

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