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Unwelcome Chinese Spy vessel and the deepening rift between India and Sri Lanka relations in recent past

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The Indian Ocean region is the third largest water body of the globe that has a vital lane of communication crisscrossing it and feeds Asia’s largest economy. it has always been the zone of progress and hope since the history of maritime adventure. With the gradual progress of trade and commerce across the globe, IOR gained significance for the free and smooth maritime. Sri Lanka Hambantota port built with the economic support of China has been located at the strategic southern Sri Lanka location.

Major Indian Ocean Regional countries don’t welcome the Chinese presence in the water especially seeing the dominant scenario of Beijing in the south China sea and some misadventures by it. Last Saturday, Sri Lanka which earlier deferred the visit of the Chinese military vessel Yuan Wang 5 following concerns raised by India, and the US. Soon after Colombo made a U-turn and allowed the Chinese ship to dock at the Hambantota port from August 16 to 22.

What is Yuan Wang 5 ship ?

Yuan Wang 5 is a Chinese ballistic missile and satellite tracking ship. As per China, it’s a research vessel meant for scientific purposes. However, other parties described it as a ballistic missile and satellite tracking ship, moreover, US sources claim that the ship’s actual command is in the hand of the PLA, the Chinese military.

All the claims regarding the ship have been dismissed by the Chinese authority. According to India Today, Yuan Wang 5 is a third-generation vessel of the Yuan Wang series that entered service in 2007. Reports also add that illy a space tracking ship is involved in supporting the manned space programme.

Why has India raised concerned over the docking of Yuang Wang 5 vessel?

India does not easily digest China’s presence in the South Asian waters which challenges India’s clout in the region. India labelled the vessel as an espionage ship as a matter of concern for India’s security interests. There is a fear of espionage on vast India’s coast which is part of the peninsula region and is immediate to Sri Lanka. There’s also apprehension related to a wide variety of functions that can be performed by the vessel which has not been deciphered yet.

India has questioned the claim of Yuang Wang 5 as a research vessel which is said to be carrying out hydrological surveys and metal prospecting, however, the fact its function is to monitor satellite activity and missile test firing in the region with a focus on India, Australia and US.

Why Sri Lanka didn’t pay hid to Indian concerns?

Since the Sri Lankan economy collapsed, India has so far provided more than $4 Billion in aid, which includes fuel, credit, food security, medical etc. Despite Colombo being bankrupt and receiving mammoth support from India, it defied India’s security concerns. The possible reasons could be, first India’s neighbour countries play a balancing act between India and China to counter the Indian hegemony in the neighbourhood.

Second, countries like Bangladesh, and Nepal also play the China card to put India on the back foot and enhance its domestic bargaining power with India. Third, china’s chequebook diplomacy always outnumbers India on the front of economic support and credit. Fourth, Beijing quickly responds to the technical assistance and massive funds for the infrastructural development while India dithered here.

Diplomats in New Delhi have been little shaken due to Colombo’s negligence of India’s security concern despite India always lending its helping hand to its neighbourhood under its neighbourhood first policy. India Sri Lanka ties since past few decades have not always been smooth and steady, ups and down in the diplomatic relation and Chinese angle have always been a roadblock.

If we closely monitor the internal politics of Sri Lanka in recent times India’s image has been maligned on several occasions in the internal issues of Sri Lanka, right from the rumour of providing asylum to the Rajapaksa, to the lending support to him in order to flee the country. However, all these rumours have been dismissed by the Indian embassy in Colombo. The rise of left parties in Sri Lankan politics in recent times has also been considered as the reason behind the closening ties with China and the distancing of India on several occasions.

Way forward

External Affairs Minister S Jaishanker has said India is closely monitoring the docking of a Chinese spy ship on the Hambantota seaport. With this response, it can be considered that India’s response is not going to be panic, rather based on facts, the capability of India too, defer any attempt to tarnish its security concern. However, Sri Lanka must be held accountable to defy India’s concern despite India’s support in the mid of the crisis.

Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Neighbourhood First Policy” and his security and growth for All in the region (SAGAR) project, India continues to send essential supplies to Sri Lanka and the Maldives. These measures surely project India as a partner in need and help with capacity building rather than luring the friends in the chequebook diplomacy.

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