New Delhi: After India, the United States expressed concern to Sri Lanka over the scheduled visit of a Chinese research vessel to the island nation in October, The Hindu reported citing Colombo-based media.
During a recent meeting, US undersecretary for political affairs, Victoria Nuland, raised the matter with Sri Lanka’s foreign minister Ali Sabray over the upcoming visit of the Chinese research vessel, Shi Yan 6, to Sri Lanka. Sabray reportedly told Nuland that Sri Lanka would comply with a “standard operating procedure”, which the government has recently finalised, in relation to all foreign vessels visiting Sri Lankan waters.
Citing sources, The Hindu said Indian officials had also expressed concerns over the same to Colombo.
The decision to allow the Chinese research vessel was taken after Sri Lanka’s defence ministry had cleared the visit. It was then forwarded to the foreign affairs ministry, from whom an official comment on the matter is still awaited.
According to China, Shiyan 6 (Experiment 6) is out on an “expeditionary voyage” in the eastern part of the Indian Ocean, after it had left Guangzhou, south China’s Guangdong Province. “Organised by the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology (SCSIO) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the vessel is scheduled to operate at sea for 80 days with 28 scientific research projects from 13 research teams onboard, covering a range of more than 12,000 nautical miles (roughly 22,200 km),” a report from China’s state-run news channel CGTN had said earlier this month.
Chinese “research ships” are said to usually have “dual purposes”, says The Tribune – while the primary aim is scientific exploration, what raises the hackles of other countries is the geopolitical purposes for which they are also deployed.
It is said that the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) of Sri Lanka is a partner in the Chinese vessel’s research activities in Sri Lankan waters, and the research collected in the process would be in Sri Lanka’s possession.
The concern over the visit of the Chinese vessel is due to the fact that it comes months after a Chinese warship was docked at the Colombo port for a few days. Earlier, another Chinese military ship, Yuan Wang 5, had visited Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port in August last year even after India as well as the US had expressed their concerns. China, at that time, had said that it “completely unjustified for certain countries to cite the so-called ‘security concerns’ to pressure Sri Lanka”.
Despite Sri Lanka’s reassurances, India has conveyed to Colombo that it has misgivings about the visit of Chinese vessels to ports in Sri Lanka. However, Sri Lanka has been trying to underline to India that it will not allow its territory to be used for any activity that would threaten the security interests of India in the region.
At a recent meeting organised by India’s high commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s minister of ports, shipping and aviation, Nimal Siripala de Silva, had underlined the importance of “close collaboration, exchange of knowledge and adaptation of new technology for the growth of the maritime sector”. Silva had made the remarks at a curtain raiser organised by the Indian high commission in preparation for the Global Maritime India Summit to be held in Mumbai from October 17 to 19.