Sri Lanka's Foreign Minister Ali Sabry on Monday said that no permission has been given for a Chinese vessel scheduled to dock in the country in October, in view of security concerns raised by India, which are "important" for Colombo.
When asked about the Chinese vessel Shi Yan 6 scheduled to sock in Sri Lanka, Sabry said that Colombo will adhere to a Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) over which they consulted several allies, including India. He further said that negotiations are still ongoing over the docking.
"India has expressed its concerns for a long period of time... So, as long as it complies with the SOP, we have no problem. But if it doesn't comply with the SOP, we have a problem," he told news agency ANI.
As per local reports, the Chinese vessel is expected to dock in Sri Lanka in October for research activities in collaboration with the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA). Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe earlier said that an SOP has been worked out for foreign vessels.
"So, therefore, as far as I know, we have not given permission to come to Sri Lanka during the month of October. So, there are negotiations going on. But, Indian security concerns, which are legitimate, are very, very important for us. We have always told that because we want to keep our region as a zone of peace," the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister further said.
US raises concerns over Chinese vessel
Following India, US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland raised concerns over the docking of the Chinese research vessel at Sri Lanka with Sabry, as per reports. Sabry assured that Sri Lanka would follow the SOPs for foreign vessels. He also said that Colombo's "even-handed" approach cannot exclude China from the process.
"The U.S. supports a strong and prosperous Sri Lanka. Our work together continues at UNGA. I met with @MFA_SriLanka Minister Ali Sabry to discuss US economic assistance, human rights, and our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific," said Nuland on platform X on September 22.
This comes after Chinese state broadcaster CGTN said that the research vessel is "set to head for an expeditionary voyage in the eastern area of the Indian Ocean" and departed on Sunday. The project aims to obtain data on dynamic processes affecting "biogeochemical cycles, ecosystems and sedimentary processes in that region".
The vessel is scheduled to operate at sea for 80 days with 28 scientific research projects from 13 research teams onboard, covering a range of more than 22,000 km.
In the first half of August, India raised concerns over a Chinese surveillance warship that docked at the Colombo Port. Sri Lanka had delayed the arrival of the Chinese vessel after concerns raised by India.
Last year, India expressed strong concerns over a similar visit by Yuan Wang 5 - a Chinese ballistic missile and satellite tracking ship - in Hambantota Port.
The concerns stemmed from the possibility that the vessel's tracking systems could be used to spy on Indian defence installations while it was on its way to Sri Lanka. However, it was allowed to dock at the Hambantota port after a considerable delay.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Yuan Wang-5 that any developments that have a bearing on India's security are "obviously of an interest to us". "What happens in our neighbourhood, any developments which have a bearing on our security obviously are of an interest to us," Jaishankar said.
(with ANI inputs)