Friday 2 December 2022
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PoliticsWorldChina begins spying Indian Ocean from south of Sri Lanka

China begins spying Indian Ocean from south of Sri Lanka

As India had suspected, the Chinese spy ship, technically a and ballistic missile tracking ship, Yuan Wang 5 is mapping the ocean bed 400 nautical miles (741 km) south-southeast of Dondra Head, the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka. The spy ship that reports to the army of China (PLA) will likely head towards its home port Jiangyin near Shanghai as per details provided at Hambantota. 

It is unclear whether the ship will make another port call while returning to China.

Although classified as a Chinese Research Vessel, the ballistic missile tracker ship disturbed India, with Sri Lankan authorities allowing the ship to berth at Hambantota on 16 August after initially deferring the port call on 11 August. The Hambantota port is on a 99-year lease with the Chinese — implying that the government of China virtually owns it — after Sri Lanka under the Beijing-friendly Rajapaksa regime did a debt-equity swap with the regime in 2017.

The docking of Yuan Wang 5 at Hambantota was, according to geopolitical observers, a political statement of assertion by the regime on the weak Ranil Wickremesinghe government after India quietly conveyed its concerns about the military ship.

The fiscal profligacy of the Rajapaksa regime led to Sri Lankan bankruptcy, with the island country now owing as much as 10% of its external debt to China. Colombo needs Beijing's support to get much-needed credit from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to run the country. The total external and internal debt of Sri Lanka is about $ 97-98 billion, way beyond its gross domestic product.

Since 2020, as many as 53 such ships have been monitored operating in the Indian Ocean Region with as many as 3-5 so-called research vessels operating in the area at any given time. While China is trying to help the Indian Ocean littorals exploit resources in their respective EEZ, the whole purpose is to monitor Indian missile activity in the Bay of Bengal and map ocean beds, which is critical to anti-submarine operations.

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