The Chinese research vessel 'Shi Yan 6' is currently making its way through the Indian Ocean, approaching Sri Lanka, even as the Sri Lankan government remains undecided about granting it permission to dock at the Colombo port in October.
Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry stated that no official permission has been granted yet due to Indian security concerns.
However, he mentioned ongoing negotiations and the possibility of approval if the vessel complies with Sri Lanka's standard operating procedures.
President Ranil Wickremesinghe, during an interview with an American think tank a month ago, had asserted that there were no Chinese spy ships in Sri Lanka.
He clarified that docking permission would be granted if the vessel followed Sri Lanka's SOPs. The Shi Yan 6 is slated to conduct joint military scientific research in Sri Lanka's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and beyond in October-November 2023.
In addition to India, the United States has also raised concerns about the spy ship. During a meeting between US Under Secretary Victoria Nuland and Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, concerns were raised regarding the visit of the Shi Yan 6.
According to a report by Daily Mirror, Sabry informed Nuland that Sri Lanka has established a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for foreign ships and aircraft conducting activities within Sri Lankan territory.
During their meeting at the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), Sabry assured Nuland that Sri Lanka applies an even-handed approach to all nations, including China, in implementing the SOP.
According to a report by Hindustan Times, India anticipates that the final decision regarding the Shi Yan 6's docking at Colombo will be made during President Wickremesinghe's visit to Beijing to mark the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) on October 17 and 18.
Sri Lanka's ongoing economic crisis has been exacerbated by high-interest loans and infrastructure projects funded by Chinese EXIM bank under the BRI, dating back to the Rajapaksa era when Wickremesinghe served as a Cabinet Minister and Prime Minister.
It was during Wickremesinghe's tenure that Sri Lanka granted China a 99-year lease of the Hambantota seaport due to an inability to repay loans.
The Shi Yan 6 entered the Indian Ocean through the Malacca Straits on September 23 and was observed in Singapore on September 14 after departing from its homeport in Guangzhou on September 10.
While India has expressed its concerns and urged Sri Lanka to address security and strategic issues, Sri Lanka faces increasing Chinese influence and debt, making the docking permission decision a delicate diplomatic issue.
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