Sri Lanka sends mixed signals as the Chinese vessel Shi Yan 6 enters the Indian Ocean.
Colombo, according to the Sri Lankan FM, has not granted permission to the Chinese vessel Shi Yan 6 because Indian security concerns have been imported to the Island Nation.
New Delhi: While the government of Ranil Wickremesinghe is sending mixed signals about allowing a Chinese research vessel to dock at Colombo port in October, the Shi Yan 6 ship has entered the Indian Ocean and is currently located mid-ocean 90 East Ridge, heading towards Sri Lanka.
Since 2019, up to 48 Chinese scientific research vessels have been deployed in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), with the general deployment area encompassing the Bay of Bengal and south, as well as the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry was quoted in the media on Monday as saying that Colombo has not granted permission to the Chinese ship Shi Yan 6 because Indian security concerns have been imported to the Island Nation. He qualified his remarks, however, by saying that negotiations were ongoing and that if the vessel followed Sri Lanka’s standard operating procedures, there would be no problems.
President Wickremesinghe was more categorical in an interview with an American think tank a month ago. He stated that there are no Chinese spy ships in Sri Lanka and that docking permission would be granted if the vessel followed Sri Lankan SOPs. In October-November 2023, the Chinese vessel Shi Yan 6 will conduct joint military scientific research in the Sri Lankan EEZ and beyond.
India, for its part, believes that the decision to allow Shi Yan 6 to dock in Colombo will be made either after or during President Wickremesinghe’s visit to Beijing on October 17 and 18 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Another issue is that high-interest loans and white elephant infrastructure projects under the BRI with Chinese EXIM bank funding fueled Sri Lanka’s economic crisis during the Rajapaksa era, with Wickremesinghe serving as Cabinet Minister and even Prime Minister. After Sri Lanka was unable to repay loans, Wickremesinghe granted China a 99-year lease on the Hambantota seaport.
After leaving homeport Guangzhou on September 10, the Chinese vessel Shi Yan 6 entered the Indian Ocean via the Malacca Straits on September 23 and was last seen in Singapore on September 14.
While India has clearly told Sri Lanka to address its security and strategic concerns, China has Colombo under its control through mounting debt and intelligence penetration within the island nation. Sri Lanka may delay granting permission for the so-called Research Vessel to dock in Colombo, hoping that the November turbulence in the Indian Ocean will suffice.