China says it is “senseless and unreasonable” to “pressure” Sri Lanka to defer the planned docking of Chinese space and satellite tracking research vessel Yuan Wang 5 at the Hambantota Port citing security concerns, in a thinly veiled reference to India, which has expressed strong objection to Sri Lanka over the planned docking.

China said yesterday (8) that it was “senseless and unreasonable” to “pressure” Sri Lanka to defer the planned docking of Chinese space and satellite tracking research vessel Yuan Wang 5 at the Hambantota Port citing security concerns, in a thinly veiled reference to India, which has expressed strong objection to Sri Lanka over the planned docking.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin, at a media briefing in Beijing, asserted that “the co-operation between China and Sri Lanka is independently chosen by the two countries, and meets common interests” and “does not target any third party”.

He urged “relevant parties” to not be unreasonable about the ship’s arrival.

“China urges relevant parties to see China’s scientific explorations in a reasonable and sensible way and stop disturbing the normal exchange between China and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a sovereign State. It can develop relations with other countries in the light of its own development interests,” Wang said.

Sri Lanka is a transport hub in the Indian Ocean and many scientific exploration ships, including those from China, have stopped at the port of Sri Lanka for resupplies, he said.

“China has always exercised the freedom of navigation in the high seas, and fully respects the jurisdiction of coastal States for scientific exploration activities within their waters.”

The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has been engaged in “quiet diplomacy” to persuade China to agree to its request to defer the docking of the Chinese vessel Yuan Wang 5 at the Hambantota Port this week, diplomatic sources told The Morning on Sunday (7), while the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka had requested an urgent meeting with senior Sri Lankan authorities over the matter.

The GoSL’s efforts are aimed at ensuring that it antagonises neither China, which is crucial to its hopes of obtaining an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout, nor India, which has virtually bankrolled Sri Lanka amidst an unprecedented economic crisis.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry had initially provided permission to Yuan Wang 5 to dock at Hambantota Port. However, Sri Lanka’s Defense Ministry had denied the vessel’s arrival to foreign media in July, even as India raised concerns about it. In the face of intense pressure from India, the GoSL had issued a “third-person note” from Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry to the Chinese embassy in Colombo dated 5 August, which requested that the arrival of the vessel be deferred until further consultations are made on the matter. Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong had met with President Ranil Wickremesinghe after the receipt of the note and expressed China’s surprise at the sudden change of heart by Sri Lanka.

Last week, Indian External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi told a media briefing last week, in response to reports about the ship, that the Indian Government “carefully monitors any development having a bearing on India’s security and economic interest and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them. I think that should be a clear message”.

China plays an important role in Sri Lanka’s economic recovery as the Government seeks a financing loan from the IMF, as the US-based fund said last week that Sri Lanka should kick off debt restructuring talks with its bilateral lender China. Moreover, Reuters reported last week that Sri Lanka has been in negotiations with China over several months for a $ 4 billion aid package.

On the other hand, India has provided Sri Lanka with almost $ 4 billion in aid this year, as Sri Lanka grapples with its worst economic crisis since Independence. Top-level Indian officials were in the country for a one day visit in June as well.

Courtesy:The Morning