Amidst snooping concerns expressed by India, the Chinese ballistic missile and satellite tracking ship Yuan Wang 5 arrived and docked at Hambantota port on Tuesday. This is a strategically important deep sea port in southern Sri Lanka.
India fears that the ship, which will remain in the port from August 16-22, has the capability to track and snoop on the installations in India. While docked this ship could track the movements of the Indian ships as well as other military installations.
India and US Concern
Both India and the US have voiced their concern, ever since the Hambantota port’s 99-year lease for China in 2017. Why? Because the Yuan Wang Class can monitor the different lands it passes by while sailing towards this port.
While addressing the media, referring to Indian and US concerns over the ship, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin stressed: “The marine scientific research activities of the Yuan Wang 5 are consistent with international law and international common practice.” He added that the research ship will take time to replenish the necessary supplies.
Chinese vessel Wang Yang 5
According to Colombo, the docking of the Chinese spy ship was allowed for replenishment purposes andwhile in the Sri Lankan waters it has to keep its Automatic Identification System (AIS) switched on, and will not be allowed to carry out scientific research.
And China has, according to reports, said that the presence of its vessels will not affect the security of any country. Adding, there should be no “obstruction’’ by any “third party’’ – in obvious reference to India and its security concerns.
Response from India
On Tuesday’s development, there is no official response from New Delhi to the development in the neighbourhood. Ahead of the ship’s arrival, according to reports, Sri Lanka President Ranil Wickemesinghe had said China will not be allowed to use the port of Hambantota for military purposes.
Last week at the weekly briefing the official spokesperson of Ministry of External Affairs Arindam Bagchi had said “India will make the best judgement about its security interests. It takes into account the prevailing situation in the region, especially in border areas.”
“The government carefully monitors any development having a bearing on India’s security and economic interests and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them.”
More about the Spy Vessel
According to reports, the Yuan Wang class ships help Beijing’s land-based tracking stations to track satellites, intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and rocket launches.
Yuan Wang-5 is 20,000-tonne, with 400 crew members and is equipped with advanced electronic equipment, sensors and antennae.
This powerful tracking vessel has a significant aerial reach and it can track up to 750 kms. What does it mean for India? According to a senior naval officer, “The vessel can spy on ports based in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil which are closest to the Southern tip.”
Belligerence of China continues
China has been belligerent in the Indian Ocean and India has taken a strong view of the ships present in the region and the matter has been raised with Sri Lanka in the past. In 2014, the bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka were strained following the permission given by the island nation to let China’s nuclear submarine dock at one of its ports.
Then in 2017, since Sri Lanka was unable to pay up its loan, the Hambantota port was leased to China Merchants Port Holdings for 99 years. In fact China is the main creditor of Sri Lanka in investment in infrastructure, and the debt restructuring of Chinese loans is key to the island’s success in talks with the IMF for a bailout.
And on the other hand India has the island nation’s lifeline and it has extended economic assistance of almost USD 4 billion to help it get over its economic crisis.
Sri Lanka had earlier asked China to postpone the visit of the hi-tech ship due to the concerns expressed by India. However, on Sunday it did a U-turn and allowed the Chinese ship to dock at Hambantota port.
Chinese Navy & expanding its presence
It boasts of having the largest Navy in the world. It has around 355 warships and submarines. While it has easy access to Karachi and Gwadar ports in Pakistan, it set its first overseas base at Djibouti on the Horn of Africa in August 2017. Now it is looking for bases in the Indian Ocean Region – whether it is Cambodia, Seychelles and Mauritius to east African countries.
Reports indicate that China is eyeing debt trapped Madagascar in the African continent where it plans to set its base. Madagascar was the first country in the African continent to let China expand its presence in the continent when it joined the Belt and Road Initiative.
Chinese trawlers moving around
While in recent years, this hi-tech ship has docked at a port in Sri Lanka, Chinese trawlers are constantly moving in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) which accounts for over 14 percent of global wild-caught fish.
One of the gravest non-traditional global maritime security threats facing nations is Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing, as it is causing alarming depletion of fish in the sea and this concern has been flagged by countries at the United Nations.
Financial Express Online has reported earlier that China has blatantly disregarded this and is the worst offender on the IUU index, even though it is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
According to the findings of the `Gaps in Fisheries Regulation in High Seas of the Indian Ocean’ report by Trygg Matt Tracking (TMT), the Indian Ocean Region is home to some important fisheries.
Chinese trawlers and maritime security
When these big trawlers move they could be involved in actually catching fish or be involved in transhipment activities or it could be using several fishing vessels as maritime militia to bully Indian fishermen.
China often deploys these trawlers for covert ISR missions, surveillance flotilla for the PLA and according to experts a swarm of these vessels moving closer to Indian EEZ can be a nuisance to the Indian Navy.