Chinese vessel docks in Colombo amidst India’s concerns

A Chinese research ship docked at a Sri Lankan port on Wednesday, likely adding to neighboring India’s concerns about China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean.

The arrival of the Shi Yan 6 follows last year’s visit by a Chinese naval vessel.

The latest ship was given permission to dock for replenishment at the port of Colombo, the Indian Ocean island’s main port, from Wednesday until Oct. 28, said foreign ministry spokesman Kapila Fonseka.

The vessel had been expected to conduct research with Sri Lankan state institutions, but Fonseka said permission was granted only for replenishment and no research work would be carried out.

“The particular permission is very clear,” he said.

According to Chinese television network CGTN, Shi Yan 6 is a geophysical scientific research vessel on an expeditionary voyage in the eastern area of the Indian Ocean.

Organized by the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the vessel is scheduled to operate at sea for 80 days, covering a range of more than 12,000 nautical miles (roughly 22,200 kilometres), CGTN reported.

China has been trying to expand its influence in Sri Lanka, which is located on one of the world’s busiest shipping routes in what India considers part of its strategic backyard.

Beijing was once widely seen as having an upper hand with its free-flowing loans and infrastructure investments. But Sri Lanka’s economic collapse last year provided an opportunity for India as New Delhi stepped in with massive financial and material assistance.

Two weeks ago, Sri Lanka reached an agreement with Export-Import Bank of China on key terms and principles for restructuring its debt, an important step toward unlocking a second installment of a $2.9 billion package from the International Monetary Fund aimed at helping the island nation from its dire economic crisis.

Sri Lanka declared bankruptcy in April 2022 with more than $83 billion in debt, more than half to foreign creditors. China accounts for about 10% of Sri Lanka’s loans, trailing Japan and the Asian Development Bank.

Sri Lanka borrowed heavily from China over the past decade for infrastructure projects including a seaport, airport and a city being built on reclaimed land. The projects failed to earn enough revenue to pay for the loans, and in 2017, Sri Lanka leased the seaport in Hambantota to China.

Last year, Chinese navy vessel Yuan Wang 5 docked at Hambantota in southern Sri Lanka. There were fears in India that the vessel could be used to surveil the region.

Associated Press

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