Chinese Yuan Wang 5 vessel mired in a geopolitical tussle docks at the Hambantota Port;welcome ceremony attended by MPs Weerawansa, Nanayakkara and Weerasekera; “On behalf of the President, I came here today to welcome the ship and wish them,” says Sarath Weerasekera.

BY P. Waravita

The Chinese Yuan Wang 5 vessel, whose arrival was mired in a geopolitical tussle, docked at the Hambantota Port yesterday (16), with a welcome ceremony attended by prominent MPs, where the Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhong stated that the docking of the vessel is a “normal exchange” between China and Sri Lanka.

The scientific research vessel from China attracted controversy earlier this month, as neighbouring India raised several concerns ovet the purpose of its visit. The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) even rescinded its initial approval to the vessel to dock at Hambantota, and asked China to defer its visit. Permission was again granted for the vessel to dock yesterday (16).

Responding to media questions at the event held yesterday, Zhenhong said that the “scientific research vessel docked successfully and smoothly” at the Hambantota Port, and that this is “a normal exchange between our two countries because Sri Lanka and China enjoy a longstanding friendship”.

“The scientific research vessel visiting Hambantota is very natural and normal. It is nothing special, and everybody knows this. This is not the first time that this kind of vessel visited Sri Lanka,” added Zhenhong.

He noted that in 2014, a vessel of a similar nature visited Colombo.
“So this is very natural. I hope that our media friends tell the Sri Lankan people about the objectives of the issues.”
When questioned about his knowledge on the reasons for the delay of the ship’s entry to Hambantota, Zhengong said: “Everybody knows. I do not think it is polite.”

When further questioned as to the reason for the diplomatic tussle over the arrival of the ship, Zhengong responded that he does not know, adding that “maybe this is life. This is nature”.

The media further questioned him about India’s concerns over the ship, especially with regard to security to which Zhengong said: “You can ask those questions from the Indian friends.”

Addressing the weekly Cabinet press briefing held to announce its decisions yesterday (16), Cabinet Spokesman Dr. Bandula Gunawardana said that Sri Lanka had asked China to delay the ship’s arrival until discussions with India had concluded. “We had initially given permission. Questions were raised by India, and until those discussions finished, we asked to delay the arrival. We follow a non-aligned policy, and all nations are important to us. The Foreign Ministry has acted responsibly to work without causing issues between friendly countries.”

In his official address at the ceremony, Zhengong said that Yuan Wang 5’s visit to Hambantota will leave quite a mark on the celebration of the 65th anniversary of China-Sri Lanka diplomatic ties, and the 70th anniversary of the Rice-Rubber Pact.

“The Hambantota Port, as a major ‘Belt and Road’ co-operation project, is a symbol of the China-Sri Lanka friendship and co-operation, as well as a most powerful engine for Sri Lanka to achieve economic recovery and to enhance its capacity of self development. Even though you (Yuan Wang 5) have experienced some different rough weather this time on the Indian Ocean, the Port call of Yuan Wang 5 to Hambantota finally came through.

“It manifests not only your courage, tenacity and invincibility, but also the deep rooted, enduring and unshakable traditional friendship between our two countries,” noted the English translation of Zhengong’s official address, as sent by the Chinese Embassy.
Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) MPs Rear Admiral Dr. Sarath Weerasekera, Wimal Weerawansa, and Vasudeva Nanayakkara were present at the ceremony.

Addressing the gathering, Weerawansa said that although the land is Sri Lankan, the sky and the Ocean connect the country to the world.
“There is a certain area from the sky and the ocean that is sovereign to us and we are responsible for that. The Indian Ocean should be regarded as an ocean of peace, and it shouldn’t be a battlefield or a camp of enemies. Although we may be weakened economically, we should strictly be on that stance. Although some are saying that it is a spy vessel, as soon as the permission was given, the ship should have been allowed to come to Sri Lanka,” said Weerawansa.

During his address, Nanayakkara said that the presence of Yuan Wang 5 shows Sri Lanka’s independence and sovereignty, adding that the long term relationship between China and Sri Lanka should not be affected by “imperialistic conspiracies” and that it should be continued to the future.

“The opinions surrounding the ship were built around the ideas of the US and the West.”

Speaking to the media, Weerasekera said that although there was an initial difference of opinion, “it has been solved now”.
“With this, the friendship is strengthened. On behalf of the President, I came here today to welcome the ship and wish them,” said Weerasekera.

Speaking to The Morning, Hambantota Port Harbour Master Capt. Nirmal Silva said that the vessel is due to leave Sri Lanka on 19 August, although permission had been granted for it to dock at Hambantota till 22 August for replenishment purposes.

India’s External Affairs Ministry raised concerns to the media about the arrival of the vessel in late July. Following this, China’s Foreign Ministry had responded to media questions about these concerns by stating that “China hopes that the relevant parties will view and report on China’s marine scientific research activities correctly and refrain from interfering with normal and legitimate maritime activities”.

China later termed India’s opposition to the visit as “morally irresponsible and unjustified”, adding that Sri Lanka is a sovereign country with the right to develop relations with other countries based on its development interests.

In a statement issued on 8 August, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry said that although diplomatic clearance was given on 12 July to the Chinese vessel to call on the Hambantota Port for replenishment purposes from 11 August to 17 August, the Ministry had later communicated to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Colombo to defer the said visit

The Morning learnt that on both the occasions that permission was given to Yuan Wang 5 to dock at Hambantota, two conditions were stipulated, namely, not to conduct any research work and to keep the automatic identification system turned on at all times when it is in Sri Lankan waters

Courtesy:The Morning