In Sri Lanka on 'mission of peace, friendship', says Captain of Chinese 'spy' ship

Chinese ballistic missile and satellite tracking ship 'Yuan Wang 5' has berthed at Sri Lanka's strategic southern port of Hambantota since Tuesday.
Yuan Wang 5, a Chinese scientific research ship, arrives at the port in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022.(Photo | AP)
Yuan Wang 5, a Chinese scientific research ship, arrives at the port in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022.(Photo | AP)

COLOMBO: China's high-tech research vessel 'Yuan Wang 5' is on a "mission of peace and friendship" and its docking at a Sri Lankan port will deepen bilateral relations in the field of space, science and technology, according to the controversial ship's captain.

Chinese ballistic missile and satellite tracking ship 'Yuan Wang 5', which is allegedly a 'spy' ship, is berthed at Sri Lanka's strategic southern port of Hambantota.

The ship arrived on Tuesday and will be docked at the Chinese-run port till August 22, amidst security concerns expressed by India. The ship was originally scheduled to arrive at the port on August 11 but it was delayed in absence of permission by the Sri Lankan authorities.

On August 13, the Sri Lankan government granted the port access to the vessel from August 16 to 22 on condition that it will keep the Automatic Identification System (AIS) switched on within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Sri Lanka and no scientific research to be conducted in Sri Lankan waters.

The ship is to remain at Hambantota port "for replenishment and ship chandelling," Captain Zhang Hongwang was quoted here on Wednesday in a statement by the management company of the Hambantota harbour.

"Yuan Wang 5 is a ship on a mission of peace and friendship. As an international port that accommodates multinational ships, Hambantota International Port will provide us with necessary ship supplies in accordance with international practice," he said.

"We believe the ship's call at Hambantota International Port will deepen the exchange between China and Sri Lanka in the field of space science and technology and promote the common progress of the space industry of the two countries. It will also deepen the connection between China and Sri Lanka and further grow the friendship between people of both countries," Zhang said.

The ship's voyage was clouded in controversy when Sri Lanka asked the Chinese to delay the arrival due to reported concerns from India on its mission. India had cited security concerns with the ship's technical capability and the purpose of the visit, the local officials said.

New Delhi is concerned about the possibility of the ship's tracking systems attempting to snoop on Indian installations while being on its way to the Sri Lankan port.

The owners of the port Hambantota Port Group owned by the Chinese said the port had extended welcomes to ships from various countries approved by the Sri Lankan government and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.

"Up to July, we catered hundreds of vessels including RoRo, gas and oil vessels, bulk carriers, layups, cruises, yachts etc", Johnson Liu, the port CEO said. The request for postponement of the visit by the ship became a political debate with a section of the opposition issuing a joint statement blaming the government for bungling the issue.

They questioned the wisdom of asking for a postponement having been originally given clearance mid July. The government said it was treating the matter as a sovereign decision of Sri Lanka and friendship with all nations was important to the island.

The ties between India and Sri Lanka came under strain after Colombo gave permission to a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine to dock in one of its ports in 2014. India's concerns have been focused on Hambantota port in particular.

In 2017, Colombo leased the southern port to China Merchant Port Holdings for 99 years, after Sri Lanka was unable to keep its loan repayment commitments, fanning fears over the potential use of the port for military purposes.

China's foreign ministry said on Tuesday 'Yuan Wang 5' is conducting scientific research "in accordance with international law."

It "does not affect the security and economic interests of any country, and should not be interfered with by third parties," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said in Beijing.

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