Why has a Chinese ship, docking in Sri Lanka, raised concerns in India and the United States?
And is it really here for “replenishment” as the Foreign Ministry claims it is?
Shi Yan 6, a Chinese “scientific research vessel” docked in Colombo on Wednesday, as confirmed by the Foreign Ministry.
Since an announcement in August that the ship would be docking in Sri Lanka, meant to snoop on Indian military assets based in the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
Meanwhile, the United States’ Under Secretary Victoria Nuland is reported to have expressed her country’s apprehensions, when she met Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Ali Sabry on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
The ship docked in Colombo, with Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry appearing to quell those concerns stating that the ship would be allowed to dock only for replenishments Until the 28th, and not for any research purposes.
So why is this still a problem?
Statements by the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency, or NARA for short, appear to contradict the stance of the foreign ministry.
A senior NARA official told the Daily Mirror on Wednesday that the ship could yet engage in research, even if it's not the kind that causes security concerns.
The official said the agency “awaits collaborative research with the Chinese vessel, subject to the approval of the Foreign Ministry, with a focus on the water column of the Indian Ocean."
This research, the official reiterated, would not include research activity at sea bottom, due security sensitivity.
The official was also quoted as saying: “The Indian Ocean is the least researched ocean in the world. We are hoping to do collaborative research. It means our scientists will be aboard the vessel. We are not allowing anyone to gather data and leave. We will keep data findings,” he said.
Will NARA researchers wave a magic wand to ensure members of the Chinese crew forget what data they gather as part of this collaboration? And will they be able to ensure no other research is done?
That's anyone's guess.
Sri Lanka had initially agreed to allow the ship to dock this month, but in the face of concerns from India and the US, had asked China to defer the visit until November.
But with the ship having already left China weeks before Sri Lanka gave its clearance, it went ahead and docked in Colombo on Wednesday.
And while, on the face of it, there appears nothing untoward about a foreign ship requesting to call on a Sri Lankan port, should the frequency of China's ships docking in the country be a cause for concern?
In the last six years, there have been almost 20 visits from Chinese ships to Sri Lankan ports, in some cases with little or no public knowledge.
Should the people of the country not be made more aware of the nature of these visits and the scope of data being gathered?
Or are the government more concerned about maintaining the delicate diplomatic situation it is in, appeasing the requests made by different countries and being pulled from side to side by their agendas as a result?