since July, Yuan Wang 5 He was sailing from China to the port of Hambantota on the southern tip of Sri Lanka after Sri Lankan officials agreed to stop there for a “replenishment”. But Indian and US officials put heavy pressure on the Sri Lankan government to revoke access to the port, infuriating their Chinese counterparts.
Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stuck in the middle, said in a statement on Monday that it had formally asked China to postpone the visit, adding that it “would like to reaffirm the lasting friendship and excellent relations between Sri Lanka and China”. Sri Lankan media reported on Thursday that the ship reduced its speed and turned around, only to make a turn again at sea and continue towards the island.
As of Thursday — when Yuan Wang5 was due to arrive — Sri Lankan officials were still engaged in negotiations with the Chinese about whether and when the ship would be allowed to dock, according to a senior Sri Lankan foreign ministry official with direct knowledge of the discussions. The Sri Lankan official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks between governments, said Indian, Chinese and US officials are applying intense pressure behind the scenes.
While the arrival of a Chinese warship in Hambantota is not of strategic importance, Indian and US officials argue that it will be seen as Sri Lanka giving special treatment to China, a major creditor, at a time when the embattled government in Colombo needs to renegotiate its debt. With a group of international lenders and get rescue from the International Monetary Fund. With Sri Lanka’s economy in free fall this year, India, which considers South Asia its traditional sphere of influence and seeks to reverse China’s growing role there, has provided $4 billion in loans to purchase emergency fuel.
Then there is the history of the port itself. China, which financed and built it for Sri Lanka in 2012, took control of the facility under a 99-year lease in 2017 after Sri Lanka struggled to repay its debts, prompting accusations from the Trump administration that Beijing was engaging in predatory lending with the globe. Belt and Road Long Infrastructure Program.
This week, China indirectly accused India of “grave interference” in its affairs and dismissed its complaints that the sensors onboard the Yuan Wang 5 could be used to peer inside India.
“It is unreasonable for a third party to put pressure on Sri Lanka on the basis of so-called security concerns,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing.
The dispute reflects the maneuvers between the United States, its partners, and China that are taking place around the world. Since taking office, President Biden has bolstered efforts by previous US administrations to curb Chinese expansion in the Indo-Pacific, mobilizing countries like India and Australia to assist in the effort. For its part, India has sought US help to counter China, a regional rival with which it has ongoing border disputes.
US analysts say that if China were to launch military ships from Hambantota – which it has not yet done – the People’s Liberation Army would gain a foothold in a very strategic location near important shipping lanes and the Persian Gulf. But analysts also say it is inappropriate for the United States to publicly call for China to be denied access to the port, given that Washington has historically adopted the principle of unrestricted navigation and often annoys China with its naval maneuvers.
The US Embassy in Colombo declined to comment.
“American ships make calls at ports throughout Southeast Asia and East Asia that China finds uncomfortable, and vice versa,” said Joshua T. White, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former advisor on South Asian affairs on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council.
In recent years, Washington and New Delhi have strengthened their military cooperation in the Indian Ocean with the aim of countering China, White said. On Sunday, a US Navy cargo ship underwent repairs at a shipyard near Chennai, a southern Indian city near Sri Lanka. It was the first time that India allowed US Navy ships to dock for repairs, something the Pentagon had sought for years.
As the Yuan Wang 5 made its way across the Indian Ocean this week and speculation about a port visit increased, the media in both India and China were flooded with alarming comments.
In India, newspapers issued warnings about the ship’s surveillance capabilities after the Indian Foreign Ministry issued a stern statement on monitoring any activity that would threaten India’s national security. Cable channels flash the hashtag “#Chinesespyship” during news programmes.
Take Sri Lanka, for example: the debt trap has already pushed the country to the brink, but Beijing is far from over. “They are intent on creating more problems for the island,” said Palki Sharma, broadcaster of the pro-government network WION, at prime time. soliloquy. “…whether it is humanitarian aid, whether it is rescue talks with the International Monetary Fund, India is the only one that has come forward to help Sri Lanka. China has played the role of the spoiler to a large extent.”
The Chinese were similarly noisy, especially after Sri Lanka requested that the port visit be postponed.
“India is bullying a bankrupt country,” a popular channel host has taken over on Tencent News. “Just because India gave $4 billion, they think they’re on the cutting edge now. How does that amount compare to what China has given Sri Lanka over the years?”
Retired Admiral Arun Prakash, the former chief of the Indian Navy, said temperatures needed to be brought down. He said the dispute between India and China does not benefit any country, nor Sri Lanka.
“We need to respect Sri Lanka’s autonomy, especially at this point when they are on their knees,” he said. “It’s a sovereign country that can let any ship that wants in. We don’t have the Monroe Doctrine in the area.”
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