India on Saturday hit back at China for alleging that it was “interfering” in Sri Lanka’s internal affairs, firmly telling Beijing that what Colombo needs now was “support, not unwanted pressure or unnecessary controversies” to serve another country’s agenda.
Hinting at India’s objection to the docking of Chinese ballistic missile and satellite tracking ship ‘Yuan Wang 5’ at the Hambantota port, Chinese ambassador to Sri Lanka Qi Zhenhongon in a statement on Friday said that “external obstruction” based on so-called security concerns without any evidence is a “thorough interference” into the island nation’s sovereignty and independence.
“We have noted the remarks of the Chinese Ambassador. His violation of basic diplomatic etiquette may be a personal trait or reflecting a larger national attitude,” the High Commission of India in Sri Lankan tweeted.
It said Qi’s view of India may be coloured by how his own country behaves.
“India, we assure him, is very different,” the Indian mission in Colombo said.
The Ambassador’s imputing a geopolitical context to the visit of a purported scientific research vessel is a giveaway, the mission said, adding that “opaqueness and debt driven agendas are now a major challenge, especially for smaller nations. Recent developments are a caution”.
“Sri Lanka needs support, not unwanted pressure or unnecessary controversies to serve another country’s agenda,” it said, as the island nation is grappling with the worst economic crisis since 1948.
In the statement, Qi, said China was happy that matter related to docking of ‘Yuan Wang 5’ at the Hambantota port was dealt with and Beijing and Colombo jointly safeguard each other’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.
External obstruction based on so-called security concerns but without any evidence from certain forces is de facto a thorough interference into Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and independence, the statement said, without directly naming India.
India had rejected China’s “insinuations” that New Delhi pressured Colombo against the visit by a Chinese research vessel to the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota but asserted that it will take decisions based on its security concerns.
“We reject the insinuations in the statement about India. Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and makes its own independent decisions,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said at a media briefing in New Delhi on August 12.
He said that Sri Lanka, as a sovereign country, makes its own independent decisions and noted that India would make its judgment on its security concerns based on the prevailing situation in the region, especially in the border areas, seen as a veiled reference to the eastern Ladakh row with China.
The high-tech ship ‘Yuan Wang 5’ was originally scheduled to arrive at the Chinese-run port on August 11 but it was delayed in absence of permission by Sri Lankan authorities following security concerns raised by India.
The Chinese ship arrived in the southern Sri Lankan port of Hambantota on August 16. It was docked there for replenishment.
Sri Lanka granted the port access to the vessel from August 16 to 22 on condition that it will keep the Automatic Identification System (AIS) switched on within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Sri Lanka and no scientific research to be conducted in Sri Lankan waters.
There were apprehensions in New Delhi about the possibility of the Chinese vessel’s tracking systems attempting to snoop on Indian defence installations while being on its way to the Sri Lankan port.
China says the ship is used for scientific research, but the US Defence Department says the ship is under the command of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and is capable of tracking satellites and missile launches.
The ship’s arrival at the Hambantota port became controversial as China leased the port from Sri Lanka in 2017 for 99 years after Colombo failed to pay debts related to the construction of the facility.
Colombo’s nod to the docking of the Chinese research vessel was crucial as the cash-strapped Sri Lankan government is seeking an early bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
China is a major creditor of Sri Lanka, and is vital to Sri Lanka’s efforts to restructure its debt to secure a bailout from the IMF.