(Bloomberg) -- Sri Lanka defended its decision to allow a Chinese scientific research ship to call at its shores after deferring an earlier request amid concerns raised by India and the US over such a move.
The Yuan Wang 5 was cleared to dock at Hambantota port from Aug. 16 to 22 after the government “engaged in extensive consultations at a high level through diplomatic channels with all parties concerned,” including seeking “further information and material,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement Saturday.
The South Asian island nation is experiencing political and economic turmoil after defaulting on debt for the first time and has endured months-long protests. The government previously deferred a request by the Chinese embassy on June 28 to allow the ship a port call in mid-August for replenishment purposes.
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The earlier postponement was made after “certain concerns” were raised, according to Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry. India’s Ministry of External Affairs said on July 28 in response to questions on the ship’s proposed visit that it is carefully monitoring any development that might have a bearing on India’s security and economic interests, and “takes all necessary measures to safeguard them.”
The US has also been lobbying the government to revoke Chinese access to the port, the Washington Post previously reported, citing an unnamed Sri Lankan official. India and the US argue that allowing the visit will be viewed as giving special treatment to China when the country is seeking to renegotiate its debt and seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, the paper said.
The over decade-old Hambantota port has been plagued by controversy, with the government having to borrow heavily to construct it. When Sri Lanka couldn’t repay the loans, it granted China a 99-year lease on the facility for debt relief.
The Yuan Wang 5 is currently sailing in the Indian Ocean, according to shipping data tracked by Bloomberg.
The Sri Lanka foreign ministry said in its statement the ship will not be allowed to conduct scientific research within Sri Lanka waters and must keep its automatic identification system switched on within its Exclusive Economic Zone.
“It is Sri Lanka’s intention to safeguard the legitimate interests of all countries, in keeping with its international obligations,” it said, reiterating its “policy of cooperation and friendship with all countries.”
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