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India says monitoring reports of Chinese vessel’s planned visit to Sri Lanka

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Sri Lanka’s deep sea harbour port facilities at Hambantota (Photo by Reuters)

India says it is aware of reports about a Chinese vessel's planned visit to a Sri Lankan port as both countries are vying for influence in the island nation amid the ongoing political turmoil. 

Media reports said Thursday that the vessel would dock at Sri Lanka's Hambantota port, built with investment from Beijing.

Reacting to the developments, India's Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi told a weekly media briefing that New Delhi was monitoring the situation and assessing its impact on its security.

"The government carefully monitors any developments having a bearing on India's security and economic interests, and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them," Bagchi said. "I think that should be a clear message."

The spokesman did not say what measures India was taking and to whom the message was being sent.

Senior officials in Beijing and Colombo have yet to confirm such a visit.

But a Sri Lankan consulting firm recently said that the Chinese scientific research vessel "Yuan Wang 5" would enter the Hambantota port on Aug. 11 for a week.

"The vessel will conduct space tracking, satellite control and research tracking in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean region through August and September," the Belt & Road Initiative Sri Lanka said on its website

Sri Lanka has become an arena of geopolitical rivalry and maritime competition between India and China.

The island country is currently experiencing the worst economic turmoil in its independent history amid surging inflation, staggering levels of debt and empty foreign exchange reserves, which have resulted in crippling shortages of essential items such as food and medicine.

Both India and China have been quick to offer help.

India tries to expand its influence in its southern neighbor facing an economic crisis. New Delhi has so far given about $1.5 billion to Colombo for funding imports of food, fuel, medicines and fertilizers. It has also provided another $3.8 billion in assistance in the form of currency swaps and credit lines.

Beijing, for its part, is providing some 500 million yuan ($75 million) in humanitarian aid and has promised to "play a positive role" in Sri Lanka's talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

China emerged as Sri Lanka's biggest trade partner and one of its largest creditors, accounting for about 10% of the country's entire foreign debt of about $51 billion.

When Sri Lanka embarked on a massive infrastructure drive after the end of a decades-long civil war in 2009, China pumped money into the country, funding roads, ports and airports for example.


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