In the wake of Sri Lanka’s request to defer the planned docking of a high-tech Chinese research vessel at the strategic Hambantota Port, China on Monday took a dig at India, saying it was “senseless to pressure” Colombo by citing the issue of security concerns.
According to reports from Colombo, Sri Lanka has asked Beijing to defer the arrival of the Chinese space and satellite tracking research vessel ‘Yuan Wang 5’ which was scheduled to dock at the Hambantota Port from August 11 to 17 due to security concerns expressed by India.
Responding to the reports, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a media briefing in Beijing that China has taken note of the reports and asserted that “the cooperation between China and Sri Lanka is independently chosen by the two countries and meets common interests. It does not target any third party”.
It is “senseless to pressure Sri Lanka” by citing the issue of security concerns, he said, in reference to the reports that Sri Lanka’s move was attributed to concerns expressed by India.
“Sri Lanka is a sovereign state. It can develop relations with other countries in the light of its own development interests,” he said.
“China urges relevant parties to see China’s scientific explorations in a reasonable and sensible way and stop disturbing the normal exchange between China and Sri Lanka,” Mr Wang said.
Sri Lanka is a transport hub in the Indian Ocean. Many scientific exploration ships including those from China have stopped at the port of Sri Lanka for resupplies, he said. “China has always exercised the freedom of navigation in the high seas and fully respects the jurisdiction of coastal states for the scientific exploration activities within their waters,” he said.
According to media reports, India informed Sri Lanka that the docking of the high-tech Chinese research vessel could pose a threat to its national security.
Sri Lanka received strong messages of protests from India as the ship was said to have the capability to track satellites and intercontinental ballistic missiles, the reports said.
India has said it carefully monitors any development having a bearing on its security and economic interests.
“We are aware of reports of a proposed visit by this vessel to Hambantota in August,” India’s External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said in New Delhi when asked about the reports of a proposed visit by the Chinese vessel.
“The government carefully monitors any development having a bearing on India’s security and economic interests and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them,” he said last month.
Reports from Colombo on Sunday said China’s embassy in the country sought an urgent meeting with senior Sri Lankan authorities after Colombo sought deferment in the planned docking of the research vessel.
Some Sri Lankan news portals also reported that the country’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe held a closed-door meeting with China’s Ambassador Qi Zhenhong after Colombo sought the deferment of the planned docking.
On July 12, amidst the political turmoil in Sri Lanka, the previous government approved the Chinese vessel’s docking at the Hambantota port.
The Chinese vessel was expected to dock at the Sri Lankan port for “refuelling and replenishment” and to conduct satellite control and research tracking in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean region through August and September.
Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena recently said Sri Lanka was looking forward to settling the issue of the vessel’s visit with an “approach of friendship”.