Sri Lanka permits Chinese ship to dock after postponement

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A Chinese research ship will be allowed to dock in a Sri Lankan port after a days-long delay apparently because of concerns raised by India.

Sri Lanka's foreign ministry said in statement Saturday that the Yuan Wang 5, which had been scheduled to dock last Thursday in the southern Hambantota port, will now arrive Tuesday and anchor there until Aug. 22.

Sri Lanka did not give specific reasons for postponing the ship's arrival, but security concerns of neighboring India over the ship's proximity to its southern borders likely factor in.

China has been vying to expand its influence in Sri Lanka, which sits along one of the busiest shipping routes in what India considers part of its strategic backyard.

India’s foreign ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said earlier that India was aware of a planned visit by the vessel and that it carefully monitors any development that affects its security and economic interests and will take all measures to safeguard them.

India has provided crucial assistance including food, fuel, medicines and cooking gas to the Indian Ocean nation as it struggles with an economic meltdown amid a severe foreign currency crisis. At the same time, China’s agreement to restructure its infrastructure loans to Sri Lanka is vital for the country to be able to reach a bailout program with the International Monetary Fund.

“The Ministry wishes to reiterate Sri Lanka’s policy of cooperation and friendship with all countries. Security and cooperation in the neighbourhood is of utmost priority. It is Sri Lanka’s intention to safeguard the legitimate interests of all countries, in keeping with its international obligations,” the ministry said.

China has lent Sri Lanka billions of dollars for development projects, some of which have been criticized as having little practical use. They include Hambantota port, which Sri Lanka leased to China in 2017 because it could not pay back the loan.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Monday, “We urge the relevant parties to see China’s marine scientific research activities in a rational light and stop disrupting normal exchange and cooperation between China and Sri Lanka."

Sri Lanka's foreign ministry said the government had been in talks to try “resolving the matter in a spirit of friendship, mutual trust and constructive dialogue, taking into account the interests of all parties concerned, and in line with the principle of sovereign equality of states.”

It added that China reapplied for clearance for replenishment purposes and was approved.