Sri Lanka’s Ship Not Permitted to Dock, India’s Concerns Legitimate: Sri Lankan FM Sabry
Sri Lanka Denies Permitting Chinese Vessels Amid Indian Concerns
Contrary to the prevailing concerns, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, Ali Sabry, has negated the claims of granting permission for Chinese vessels to dock in Sri Lankan waters. This move comes in the wake of India raising concerns over a Chinese research vessel, the Shi Yan 6. Although the minister did not specifically address this vessel, he emphasized that Sri Lanka has developed a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for foreign vessels docking in its territorial waters. This SOP, reportedly developed in consultation with ‘friends’ of the country, aims to ensure that the activities of foreign ships and aircraft are in compliance with the country’s standards.
The Underlying Standard Operating Procedure
During the recent visit of US undersecretary Victoria Nuland to Sri Lanka, the newly developed SOP for foreign vessels was a point of discussion. Sabry reiterated that any ship that does not comply with this SOP would be denied docking permissions. He further emphasized that India’s security concerns are significant to Sri Lanka as the country aims to maintain its region as a ‘zone of peace’.
India’s Security Concerns and the Chinese ‘Research Vessels’
India has been vocal about its security apprehensions regarding developments in neighboring countries, particularly with respect to Chinese vessels docking in Sri Lanka. The Shi Yan 6 and another Chinese vessel, the Yuan Wang-5, have both been identified as ‘scientific research vessels’ by China. However, the latter is known to specialize in spacecraft tracking and has the capability to map the ocean bed, making it a potential surveillance tool for the Chinese Navy.
Sri Lanka’s Stand Amid Diplomatic Pressures
Despite China’s request for the Shi Yan 6 to dock in Sri Lanka in August, the country has clarified that there is no confirmed date for this, and the request is still being processed. China has criticized countries for using ‘security concerns’ to pressure Sri Lanka, where it currently operates the Hambantota port under a 99-year lease agreement. It is noteworthy that China owns more than half of Sri Lanka’s bilateral debt.
Sri Lanka’s Economic Dilemma and the Role of India and IMF
Sri Lanka, which defaulted on its external debt in April 2022, received $4 billion in rapid assistance from India between January and July last year. This has been a significant help in navigating the country’s economic crisis. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s parliament has approved a domestic debt restructuring plan, which is integral to continuing the bailout sanctioned by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
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