China has said that the docking of its submarines in Sri Lanka was common practice and not unusual, following concerns voiced in Indian strategic circles over two recent visits of People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) submarines.
The Defence Ministry in Beijing said on Monday that it "is an international common practice for navy submarine(s) to stop for refuelling and crew refreshment at an overseas port," the international media reports quoted an official as saying.
The official said Chinese submarines docked "during its escort missions in the Gulf of Aden" and off Somalia, where the PLAN is engaged in anti-piracy escort missions.
The reports said that the two visits by Chinese submarines - the first in mid-September coinciding with the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to India, and the second on Friday - had worried India. It quoted the Defence Ministry as saying the visits were nothing unusual "despite concerns raised by India".
On Friday, the submarine Changzheng-2 and warship Chang Xing Dao arrived at Colombo. In mid-September, another submarine stopped in Sri Lanka, which was nuclear-powered and did not surface according to reports.
The Sri Lankan Navy also said the visit was not unusual, pointing out that 230 warships had called on Colombo since 2010.
Sources told India Today that Chinese officials conveyed to their Indian counterparts that the submarine visits were mainly refuelling stops for anti-piracy escort missions in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. But some Indian officials and analysts have not entirely accepted that explanation, pointing that submarines, to begin with, had little role to play in such missions.