China’s satellite tracking vessel Yuan Wang 5 on Tuesday arrived at Sri Lanka’s southern Hambantota Port, despite India and the US voicing concern with Colombo over the military ship’s visit.  Hours after the vessel reached the Sri Lankan port, China said the “marine scientific research” activities of the vessel were “consistent with international law” and did not impact “any other country’s security interests”.  

According to Colombo-based official sources, both India and the US had conveyed their apprehensions to the Sri Lankan government at the highest level, citing the vessel’s “military capabilities” while in the Indian Ocean Region. Apparently addressing the concerns, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin on Tuesday said: “I want to stress again that the marine scientific research activities of the Yuan Wang 5 ship are consistent with international law and international common practice. They do not affect the security and the economic interests of any country and should not be obstructed by any third party.” 

China earlier slammed New Delhi’s apprehensions as “unjustified” and “morally irresponsible”, and “urged” New Delhi to “not disturb normal exchanges” between the two countries. New Delhi “rejected insinuations” that Sri Lanka was pressured. 

Although the vessel’s arrival was deferred by a few days subsequent to Colombo’s request, it will be docked at Hambantota for a week as was earlier planned. “It will take some time for the Yuan Wang 5 research ship to complete the replenishment of necessary supplies,” Mr. Wang said at the daily briefing in Beijing. 

China, he said, is ready to work with Sri Lankan side to “consolidate political mutual trust, deepen win-win cooperation and promote sound and steady development of bilateral relations”.  Sri Lanka has maintained strong ties with China over the years.  Colombo recently said it firmly backs the ‘One China Policy’, and asked countries to “refrain from provocations”, just after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan.   

Further, the Sri Lankan government is counting on China to help in the island’s efforts to restructure its external debt, to be eligible for crucial IMF support amid an agonising economic downturn. Chinese loans account for about 10 % of Sri Lanka’s total foreign debt.  

China extended about $ 2.8 billion to Sri Lanka soon after the pandemic hit but has not stepped in much this year, even as the island’s economy collapsed rapidly. Beijing, which announced a $74 million grant in May, is yet to respond to Colombo’s request for bridge financing, reportedly totally $4 billion.  India has extended about $ 3.8 billion this year to help Sri Lanka cope with its economic crisis.  

Responding to a query on Chinese assistance, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “We feel deeply for the economic and social difficulties that Sri Lankan side is currently facing. For quite some time, we have been providing active support to Sri Lanka for it to overcome the difficulties. That is what we did and what we will continue to do.”   A team of Sri Lankan MPs and Chinese officials were present at the ceremonial welcome to the vessel on Tuesday. “Long live China and Sri Lanka friendship,” a red banner held by the crew on the upper deck of the vessel read.  

The Chinese vessel arrived in Sri Lanka a day after India gifted a Dornier marine surveillance aircraft to the island nation to “enhance” its security capabilities.