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India lodges formal concerns with Sri Lanka President on Yuan Wang 5 visit

India has formally lodged its concerns with Sri Lanka with regards to a Chinese research vessel which is set to arrive at the Hambantota Port next week, informed sources said.

Sources said that concerns were raised at the “highest levels” over Sri Lanka’s decision to allow ‘Yuan Wang 5’ to dock at the Hambantota Port.

India has raised the issue of the scheduled visit of a Chinese research vessel to Colombo Port with President Ranil Wickremesinghe, after the Ministry of Defence in Colombo confirmed the ship’s arrival, despite New Delhi giving a “clear message” on its concerns.

While there is no official statement so far from either the Indian mission in Colombo, or the President’s office in this regard, the matter “was raised at the highest level by the Indian side,” an official source in Colombo,confirmed.

Following media reports last week of ‘Yuan Wang 5’ — a Chinese vessel involved in space and satellite tracking — calling at Sri Lanka’s southern Hambantota Port, the Ministry of Defence denied such a vessel was arriving.

However, taking back its denial within days, the ministry said last weekend that it had cleared the vessel’s entry into the Chinese-built Hambantota Port, where it would dock from August 11 to 17.

The confirmation not only sparked serious concern in New Delhi, but also raised eyebrows in Colombo too, coming two days after Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi’s media remarks that India “carefully monitors any development having a bearing on its security and economic interests”.

China has defended the ship’s visit and asked “relevant parties” to “refrain from interfering” with its “legitimate maritime activities.”

Members of Sri Lanka’s political opposition on Monday commented on the vessel’s scheduled arrival, and urged the government not to “accentuate” India’s strategic concerns, especially at a time when Colombo is counting on urgent economic assistance from both New Delhi and Beijing to tide over the island’s economic crisis.

Opposition parliamentarian Dr. Harsha de Silva said in a tweet on Monday: that he fervently hopes the ‘highest level’ of the country will resolve this before getting out of hand. India and China are dependable friends and we certainly don’t need to change that. Specially now when we desperately need both to help us.”

The opposition Tamil National Alliance, too, weighed in on the development in a series of tweets. “Chinese space-craft tracking ship Yuanwang-5 entering the Hambantota harbour on 11 August has again given rise to tensions in the region.

We do not take sides with regard to power struggles between other countries. But we have also consistently stated that China’s military presence in the Indian ocean would give India a legitimate Defence concern and that SL should not accentuate that by providing space for Chinese military presence in SL,” the Alliance said.

The ship is set to arrive at the Hambantota Port on 11 August and will remain at the port till 17 August.

Sources said that Sri Lanka has so far refused to block entry to the ship despite the concerns raised by India.

The ship is expected in Sri Lanka for refueling but India is concerned the presence of the ship will pose a threat to its national security.

Yuan Wang-class vessels are used for tracking and support of satellite and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

India is concerned the vessel can be used to spy on India while docked at the Hambantota Port.

Marine traffic showed that the vessel had departed from the Jiangyin Port, in China on 13 July and is currently sailing at 19.0 knots and is heading to Hambantota.

Yuan Wang-class vessels are used for tracking and support of satellite and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

China had last week defended its right to bring its ship to Sri Lanka as the Sri Lankan authorities had given approval.

On Friday the Chinese Government had said it hoped the relevant parties would refrain from interfering with its legitimate maritime activities.

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