Recently, it has been reported that China is sending a military vessel to Sri Lanka to spy on India which has given off a lot of confusion and a lot of warnings that what could be the motive behind China’s decision.
Official confirmation has been provided that China’s yuan wang 5 will dock at the Hamban Tota port in Sri Lanka. Around mid august. The ship is expected to arrive on August 11. It will stay in the port for seven days and on the 17th of August, it is expected to depart from the site.
Why is the voyage important in China?
The voyage has caused many riffles in Sri Lanka because the Lankan Government refused to admit that the visit was happening. The defense minister claimed that no information was provided about any port call. A few days later, the defense minister backed off his statement stating that the ship will dock in the port for replenishments and fuel.
What was the major reason for the Defense Minister in backing down from his statement?
It could be traced down from the hesitation. China is one of the largest creditors to Sri Lanka apart from Japan. The Chinese government has helped Sri Lanka to overcome the economic turmoil. As a result, the newly formed government in Sri Lanka decided to keep the Chinese government at arm’s length. That could be a major reason for the defense minister to take an u-turn.
The second reason could be drawn out from the fact that the Hambantota port is a strategic worry for India. It is less than 160 km away from the mainland of India. In other words, the Hambantota part can be described as a snow-covered paradise where the rival nations can easily spy on the Indian vessels and ports.
But, is the yuan wang capable of spying on India?
The yuan wang is not a typical military vessel. It is not a gunboat or carrier. It is instead a tracking ship. The Chinese government refers to it as a research vessel. The yuan wang was first built in 2007 and is 222m long.
The Yuan wang class tracking ship is mainly involved in space and satellite tracking. The newly commissioned ship was on duty for the Shenzhou 7 mission. The range of the ship includes 750 km. technically, the Yuan Wang ship is capable of spying on India.
Given that the ship has an overall range of 750 km, it makes it capable of China snooping on Indian assets which include the nuclear power station in Kalpakkam, Southern Naval Command in Kochi, and Nuclear power station in Koodankulam and six ports around Southern India.
The Indians have already responded to the issue. The officials in the Indian Government have lodged a diplomatic protest in Colombo and the foreign ministry released a statement saying that the government carefully monitors any development having a bearing on India’s security and economic interests and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them.
The statement released by the Foreign ministry implies that clearly, India is not happy with the decision.
Reports have asserted that the Indian Navy is on alert as they are tracking the Chinese ship as it is sailing to Hambon Tota and the matter of worry is if China would send more marine vessels to spy on India.
In 2017, China secured a 99-year lease on Hambon tota, and since then their plan has been distinct: to develop the port into a multi-purpose harbor involved in trade during the day and espionage during the night.
It is a part of China’s grand plan to dominate the Indian ocean. Most of the ports of the country surrounding India have been built with the finances provided by China including the Karachi Deepwater Terminal and Gwadar Port in Pakistan, Kyaukphyu Port in Myanmar, Lamu port in Myanmar, and Hambantota in Sri Lanka.
Some of the ports are completely owned by China and others have a part of the Chinese stake. This grand project headed by the Chinese government is often referred to as the String of Pearls and 17 ports are part of it. One of the common features of all the ports owned by China is that all of them are located in the Indian Ocean region.
Recently, the project has lost its momentum because of various reasons. Due to the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, most countries have shut their borders to foreign engagement, and another reason is the economic turmoil as a consequence of the covid-19 pandemic. The loans provided by the Chinese government were hard to be repaid and on the verge, the countries realized the toxicity of Chinese loans.
Another important reason could be traced down to Sri Lanka. The economic scenario of Sri Lanka has caused many leaders across the world to rethink borrowing Chinese loans.
Despite all the momentum, Beijing is not yet ready to give up. One example can be cited from the upcoming voyage to Hambantota.
The Lankan people are neither happy with China nor the Lankan Government. Yet, they are hosting Chinese military vessels because of leverage. Sri Lanka still owes billions of dollars in loans to China. They need China’s help to get an IMF bailout so the government has no option but to host the Chinese ship.
2014 experienced the docking of a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine in Colombo despite India’s concerns. The issue goes back to 2014 which was before the burden trap, before the Hambantota debacle. Sri Lanka clearly had the choice to deny China but instead, they utilized China’s money to counter India’s influence and the consequences were not positive.
In the case of India, it was a strategic dilemma. On one hand, India can not let China take the upper hand and cannot allow them to spy on South Indian ports. The only solution to the problem was to put pressure on the Sri Lankan government but that could easily backfire.
India has spent a massive sum of 3.38 billion dollars to help Sri Lanka to overcome the financial turmoil. That was not just humanitarian aid but it was used to purchase political support for New Delhi. But, if India pushes Colombo too hard, the clout may disappear.
Both India and Chima made wrong choices that could turn the tables for them. India has to acquire certain strategies with the help of Sri Lanka to keep the dragon out of the way