Sri Lanka has given approval for a Chinese tracking vessel used to monitor satellites, rockets and intercontinental ballistic missiles and dock at its southernmost port.
The Yuan Wang 5 is expected to arrive at the island nation’s southernmost port, the Chinese-run Hambantota, on Tuesday August 16 – despite security concerns raised by its giant neighbour India and the United States.
Foreign security analysts describe the Yuan Wang 5 as one of China’s latest generation space-tracking ships. The vessel was launched in 2007 and has a 25,000 displacement.
Both China and India have tried to expand their influence in Sri Lanka, which is facing its worst economic crisis in its post-independence history.
India has provided more help to Sri Lanka this year than any other nation. But it fears its bigger and more powerful rival China will use the Hambantota port near the main Asia-Europe shipping route as a military base.
Sri Lanka formally handed over commercial activities at the port to a Chinese company in 2017 on a 99-year lease after struggling to repay its debt.
The Pentagon says Yuan Wang ships are operated by the Strategic Support Force of the People’s Liberation Army.
On Friday, India rejected claims that it has put pressure on Sri Lanka to turn the vessel away.
“We reject categorically the ‘insinuation’ and such statement about India. Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and makes its own independent decisions,” Arindam Bagchi, a foreign ministry spokesman, said.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard.