India main concern about the visit of a Chinese surveillance vessel to Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port centres around the possibility of a more established Chinese naval presence in regional waters, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.
Sri Lanka gave in to intense pressure from China and last week reversed a decision to defer the visit to Hambantota by the Yuan Wang 5, which docked in the southern port on Tuesday morning. Both India and the US have conveyed to the Sri Lankan side their concerns about the call by the vessel, used by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to track satellites and ballistic missiles.
The Indian Navy keeps a close watch on extra-regional activity in the Indian Ocean region, especially the movement and presence of Chinese vessels such as the Yuan Wang 5, navy officials said on condition of anonymity.
The Indian side had conveyed its concerns to the Sri Lankan side long before the vessel was due in regional waters, the people cited above said. “It isn’t just about the military or strategic capabilities of the vessel, but the overall comfort level of the Chinese navy in operating in these waters,” one of the people said.
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“It’s not just about the replenishment of the Yuan Wang 5 today, but also about more such visits and possible efforts to have an established presence in the neighborhood,” the person said.
The Indian side also isn’t buying the contention that the Yuan Wang 5 is calling at Hambantota for replenishment. “The vessel didn’t go to Colombo, but to Hambantota, which is under the control of the Chinese,” the person said.
The Indian side has opposed such visits by Chinese military vessels in the past, such as calls by a conventional submarine to Colombo port in September and October 2014, and will continue to flag its concerns in view of the Chinese navy’s growing efforts to establish a presence in regional waters, the people said.
As part of its mission-based deployment model, the Indian Navy continues to position its warships along critical sea lanes of communications and choke points in the region, as well as carry out aerial surveillance, the naval officials said. “There’s nothing new about sighting Chinese vessels in the Indian Ocean region. We monitor their maritime activity closely,” one of the officials said.
In a related development, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe has said China will not be allowed to use the Hambantota port for “military purposes”. “We do not want Hambantota to be used for military purposes,” Wickremesinghe said in an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper of Japan on Sunday, two days before the vessel sailed into the port in southern Sri Lanka.
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