A Chinese naval vessel designed to track satellites and co-ordinate with long-range ballistic missiles docked at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port on Tuesday morning as India expressed concerns over security.
Yuan Wang 5, a third-generation tracking ship that India says could be used for espionage, reportedly arrived at 8.20am local time and will be docked there until August 22.
Television broadcasts and social media showed the vessel entering Hambantota port in southern Sri Lanka.
Colombo had earlier asked Beijing to postpone the visit of the ship over New Delhi’s concerns at the vessel’s presence in its neighbourhood.
New Delhi is wary of the $1.5 billion port becoming a Chinese military base and such vessels being used as intelligence-gathering tools.
Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry last week said that the ship was allowed on the condition that it will keep the automatic identification system (AIS) switched on and will not conduct any scientific research in Sri Lankan waters.
“Security and co-operation in the neighbourhood is of utmost priority. It is Sri Lanka’s intention to safeguard the legitimate interests of all countries, in keeping with its international obligations,” Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
It further said that it was “deeply appreciative of the support, solidarity and understanding of all countries” at a time when the country is in the process of addressing “severe economic challenges and engaging in multiple domestic processes to ensure the welfare of the Sri Lankan people”.
China has a major say in the operation of Hambantota port, where commercial activities were handed over to Beijing in 2017 on a 99-year lease after Sri Lanka failed to pay debts.
The Asian giant is one of Sri Lanka's biggest lenders and has also funded airports, roads and railways in the island nation.
India’s Foreign Ministry last month had said that it was carefully monitoring the development, which has a bearing on the country’s security and economic interests and "taking all necessary measures to safeguard them".