Sri Lanka says Chinese military survey ship will port only to refuel

Ranil Wickremesinghe - President of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s President Ranil Wickremesinghe. (REUTERS / Adnan Abidi)

A Chinese military survey ship will visit a strategic port in crisis-hit Sri Lanka later this month only to refuel, a cabinet spokesman said on Tuesday, after neighbouring India raised concerns over the vessel’s journey to the Indian Ocean island.

Shipping data from Refinitiv Eikon showed the research and survey vessel Yuan Wang 5 was en route to Sri Lanka’s Hambantota, a $1.5 billion Chinese-built port that India worries could be used as a military facility.

“It is coming to refuel and not for any other purpose,” cabinet spokesman Bandula Gunawardana told reporters, adding that the foreign minister had briefed Sri Lanka’s new President Ranil Wickremesinghe on the matter.

“President told Cabinet that diplomatic efforts will be made to work with both countries so as not to create any issues,” Gunawardana said.

China last week said it hoped “relevant parties” would refrain from interfering with its legitimate maritime activities.

India, which has spent billions in recent months to keep Sri Lanka afloat amid its worst economic crisis in seven decades, said it was monitoring the planned visit of the Chinese ship.

Diplomatic relations between India and China have been strained since 2020 after clashes between troops along a remote Himalayan border. At least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed in the fighting, which led to a massive build-up of troops on both sides.

Foreign security analysts describe the Yuan Wang 5 as one of China’s latest space-tracking ships, used to monitor satellite, rocket and intercontinental ballistic missile launches.

The Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military modernisation says the Yuan Wang ships are operated by the Strategic Support Force of the People’s Liberation Army.