By Hafeel Farisz, Gerry Shih
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A Chinese navy ship at the center of a diplomatic spat docked in a southern port in Sri Lanka on Tuesday, marking a small triumph for Beijing over India and the United States.
The Yuan Wang 5 arrived before 8 a.m. on Tuesday and will stay for three days, according to the Hambantota International Port Group. The ship, which reportedly carried 2,000 sailors, was welcomed in a traditional Sri Lankan ceremony attended by Chinese Ambassador Qi Zhenhong and Sri Lankan lawmakers. Footage from the event showed the dignitaries sitting on a red carpet in front of the docked Chinese vessel while its crew held a massive red banner along a deck that read: “Hello Sri Lanka, Long Live Sri Lanka — China Friendship.”
Indian and U.S. officials had raised concerns about the political optics of a Chinese navy vessel docking at Hambantota port, which the Sri Lankan government leased to the state-owned China Merchant Port Holdings Co. in 2017 after Sri Lanka failed to repay debts to China. The port’s transfer was condemned by the United States as a prime example of China’s harmful lending practices and its growing influence over the island nation — allegations that China has vehemently denied.
The port is also seen as a potential strategic foothold for the Chinese navy to project power into the Indian Ocean and the Middle East. India has warned in recent weeks that the Yuan Wang 5, a space-tracking ship that is reportedly unarmed but outfitted with advanced sensors, could spy on Indian defense installations. India said it would take necessary countermeasures to safeguard national security.
Indian officials have also argued that New Delhi this year extended substantial financial assistance to Sri Lanka — about $4 billion — as the Sri Lankan economy entered free-fall. They said Sri Lanka should refuse the Chinese vessel entry to a politically sensitive port so close to India. The bankrupt island nation, which is seeking to restructure its debts, counts China and India among its creditors.