The Chinese Ambassador met Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickremesinghe on Saturday to discuss the scheduled arrival of a Chinese vessel at the southern Hambantota Port this week, an official source in Colombo familiar with the development said, days after India raised concern with Mr. Wickremesinghe.   

Chinese Ambassador Qi reportedly sought the meeting with Mr. Wickremesinghe, on receiving a note verbal from the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry, requesting that the arrival date of ‘Yuan Wang 5’ — a vessel involved in space and satellite tracking — be deferred until “further discussions”, but official sources in Colombo said Beijing is yet to accede to their request.  

It was the diplomat’s second meeting with President Wickremesinghe last week, after he met and congratulated him on August 3, following his inaugural parliamentary speech. Neither the President’s office nor the Chinese Embassy has so far responded to requests for comment on Saturday’s meeting, even as Colombo tries to navigate tricky geopolitical tensions between its two close partners. 

Discussed at ASEAN summit 

Significantly, the ship’s visit that was cleared by the Sri Lankan side on July 12, was taken up at talks held between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Cambodia last week. The Indian delegation is said to have expressed concern over a Chinese vessel with “military” capabilities being berthed at Hambantota for nearly a week, in close proximity to the south Indian coast. The issue was discussed in Mr. Sabry’s meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

Several opposition parliamentarians in Sri Lanka have weighed in on the development, asking Colombo to recognise India’s concerns. Tamil Progressive Leader and opposition MP Mano Ganesan said in a recent tweet: “Is China bringing Indo-Sino war to Sri Lankan waters & soil? When an US carrier goes closer to Taiwan seas, PR China boils & reacts strongly. Isn’t India justified in doing the same when China brings naval surveillance vessel Yuan-Wan to Hambantota?” 

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader and lawmaker, Rauff Hakeem said in a statement that Sri Lankan leaders had given “repeated assurances that nothing inimical” to India’s security will be permitted within the territory or territorial waters of Sri Lanka. “Therefore, it is now the responsibility of the government of Sri Lanka to ensure that it takes all meaningful measures necessary to realise these objectives,” he said.