Chinese ‘research’ ship arrives in Sri Lanka, a year after similar port call raised concerns with India

Chinese research ship Shi Yan 6 arrived in Sri Lanka on Wednesday, a year after a similar port call by a spacecraft-tracking vessel raised security concerns from neighbouring India.

New Delhi is suspicious of China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in Sri Lanka, which is strategically placed halfway along key east-west international shipping routes.

The 90-metre (300-foot) vessel was seen entering the port of Colombo on Wednesday afternoon.

A foreign ministry spokesman said the vessel had been authorised to dock in the city, where a Chinese state-owned company operates a deep-sea container terminal.

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“Clearance was given for the vessel to come to Colombo for replenishment,” the spokesman, who asked not to be named, said.

There was no immediate comment from either the Chinese or Indian diplomatic missions in Sri Lanka.

Chinese state broadcaster CGTN calls the Shi Yan 6 a “scientific research vessel” with a crew of 60 to conduct oceanography, geology and marine ecology tests.

The foreign ministry did not say how long the vessel would remain docked in Colombo.

Last year, India expressed concerns over a similar port call by Chinese research vessel Yuan Wang 5, which specialises in spacecraft tracking and which New Delhi described as a spy ship.

Chinese research vessel entered Sri Lanka’s Chinese-run southern port of Hambantota in August 2022 despite concerns from India about its activities. Photo: AFP

It docked in Hambantota, a port in Sri Lanka’s south under a 99-year lease to the Chinese company that built it after Colombo was unable to service a US$1.4 billion loan taken for the project.

Sri Lanka defaulted on its US$46 billion external debt last year in an unprecedented economic crisis partly blamed on Chinese loans used to build white-elephant infrastructure projects between 2005 and 2015.

China owns 52 per cent of Sri Lanka’s bilateral debt, and Beijing’s approval is crucial for any efforts by Colombo to restructure its outstanding loans.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe attended a Beijing forum last week for China’s multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative global infrastructure programme.

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