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Chinese research ship leaves Sri Lanka after riling India, US

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)
Chinese satellite tracking ship, 'Yuan Wang 5', has left Sri Lanka. (File Photo)

A Chinese research vessel departed from Sri Lanka's Hambantota port on Monday after six days marked by tensions between India and China with New Delhi becoming increasingly uneasy over Beijing’s growing influence in the region.

"Our pilot is onboard and the ship is leaving port," a harbor official was quoted as saying by AFP news agency on Monday as the vessel was being guided out by tug boats. "They have given the port of Jiangyin as their next destination."

The vessel said to be carrying about 400 crew had left from Jiangyin, in China's Jiangsu province, in mid-July.

Shipping analytics websites describe the Yuan Wang 5 as a research and survey vessel, but Indian media has termed it as a dual-use spy ship.

The satellite tracking ship arrived at the Chinese run port on August 16 for replenishment only after being delayed one week after India lodged a complaint about the vessel being a spy ship.

The Sri Lankan president's representative Sarath Weerasekera at the time said that the relationship between the two countries has a long history and he believes that the call of the vessel "would help consolidate and strengthen the traditionally friendly relations" between them.

The strategic Hambantota port has been run by a Chinese state-owned company on a 99-year lease since 2017 in exchange for Sri Lanka’s debt to the Chinese firm that built it.

The Sri Lankan government gave its consent on the condition that the Chinese vessel would keep the Automatic Identification System (AIS) switched on within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Sri Lanka and no scientific research would be conducted in Sri Lankan waters.

The security clearance was granted by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense, which said that no rotation of personnel would take place during the port call, and the Sri Lankan government was requested to provide the necessary assistance by the Chinese Embassy in Colombo.

New Delhi saw the possibility of the space tacking ship’s ability to snoop on Indian defense installation on its way to the Sri Lankan Port. China denied the accusation, stating that Yuan Wang 5 is used for scientific purposes.

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 continues to vie for 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.

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