China’s Maritime Moves in Sri Lanka Raise Indian Concerns
In a recent event that has sparked concerns in India, a Chinese research ship, the Shi Yan 6, docked at the port of Colombo in Sri Lanka on October 25. This development comes after a similar visit by a Chinese naval vessel last year, indicating China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean region. The ship was granted permission to dock for replenishment purposes until October 28, as confirmed by Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Kapila Fonseka. While there were initial speculations about research collaboration with Sri Lankan institutions, Fonseka clarified that the permission was strictly for replenishment, and no research activities would be conducted during this period.
According to reports from the Chinese television network CGTN, the Shi Yan 6 is a geophysical scientific research vessel embarking on an expeditionary voyage in the eastern area of the Indian Ocean. Organized by the South China Sea Institute of Oceanology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the vessel is set to operate at sea for 80 days, covering an extensive range of more than 12,000 nautical miles (approximately 22,200 kilometers). This move is part of China’s broader strategy to expand its influence in Sri Lanka, a nation strategically positioned on one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, an area India considers as its strategic backyard.
China’s influence in Sri Lanka was once bolstered by its generous loans and infrastructure investments. However, Sri Lanka faced an economic collapse last year, creating an opportunity for India to step in with substantial financial and material assistance. Recently, Sri Lanka reached a crucial agreement with the Export-Import Bank of China on key terms and principles for restructuring its debt. This agreement marked a significant step toward unlocking a second installment of a $2.9 billion package from the International Monetary Fund, aimed at helping Sri Lanka navigate its dire economic crisis.
Sri Lanka’s economic troubles stemmed from its heavy borrowing, with over $83 billion in debt, more than half of which was owed to foreign creditors. China accounts for approximately 10% of Sri Lanka’s loans, trailing behind Japan and the Asian Development Bank. Sri Lanka had borrowed extensively from China for various infrastructure projects, including a seaport, airport, and a city built on reclaimed land. Unfortunately, these projects failed to generate sufficient revenue to repay the loans. In 2017, Sri Lanka leased the Hambantota seaport to China as a means to manage its debt burden.
China’s maritime activities in Sri Lanka have raised concerns in India, primarily due to the strategic implications for the region. India views the Indian Ocean as a critical area of influence and is wary of any moves that could potentially challenge its strategic interests. The docking of Chinese vessels in Sri Lanka, especially in ports such as Colombo and Hambantota, has led to apprehensions in India that these activities might be used for regional surveillance, further escalating tensions in an already sensitive geopolitical environment.
In conclusion, China’s recent maritime activities in Sri Lanka have underscored the complexities of geopolitical relations in the Indian Ocean region. As global powers jockey for influence, smaller nations like Sri Lanka find themselves in a delicate balancing act. The strategic maneuvers of major players like China and India not only impact the sovereignty and economic stability of these nations but also have broader implications for regional stability. As the situation continues to unfold, it remains essential for all stakeholders to engage in dialogue and diplomacy to ensure peace and stability in this vital maritime corridor.