Sri Lanka to Host Chinese Spy Ship: Should India be Concerned?

Ronit Kawale
Ronit Kawale  - Senior Editor
4 Min Read
Representational image of a Chinese spy ship. (Credit: Twitter/@NewsIADN)

Chinese Spy Ship Arrival

In the waters of the Malacca Strait, a Chinese “research” vessel known as Shi Yan 6 has raised eyebrows. The ship is currently en route to its destination, the Colombo port in Sri Lanka. Officially, it claims to be docking in Colombo for research purposes in the Indian Ocean region. The Strait of Malacca, a narrow passage between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra, connects the Andaman Sea and the South China Sea.

A Research Mission

Scheduled to reach Sri Lanka on October 25, the Shi Yan 6 will be conducting research operations for a period of 17 days, as confirmed by Sri Lankan authorities. Supposedly, this visit is part of an agreement with a university, and research affiliated with Sri Lanka’s National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA) will commence a scientific expedition aboard the vessel.

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India’s Concerns

New Delhi has expressed serious concerns to the Ranil Wickremesinghe government regarding the permission granted for the Chinese research vessel to dock at the Sri Lankan port. Although there was initial confusion regarding whether Sri Lanka had indeed granted permission, the ship’s journey to Colombo confirms it. This isn’t the first time such concerns have arisen.

Tracking Capabilities

While it may not possess the antennas to track satellites and missiles, experts suggest that the technical research equipment on board the Shi Yan 6 can be used for both offensive and defensive purposes. Sea bed mapping, for instance, could prove useful for submarine deployments in case of conflict. The exact nature of the research planned is for Sri Lanka to decide, but it underscores China’s attempts to assert dominance in the region at the potential expense of India’s concerns.

A History of Concerns

China’s spy ships have a notorious history of visits to the Indian Ocean region. For instance, last year, India protested against the docking of the Chinese vessel Yuan Wang 5 at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port. Despite being labeled a ‘research’ vessel, experts believed it was equipped to monitor satellite and missile launches. China’s track record in deploying such ships during Indian missile tests further raised concerns.

Sri Lanka’s Dilemma

Sri Lanka’s decision to allow surveillance and missile tracking ships at its Colombo and Hambantota ports, despite Indian protests, highlights the complex balance it faces. The country, grappling with significant debt to China, is cautious not to antagonize President Xi Jinping, as it owes approximately $3 billion to China.

In conclusion, the presence of the Chinese “research” vessel Shi Yan 6 in Sri Lanka raises concerns for India. While it may not have overt tracking capabilities, the vessel’s technical research equipment could potentially serve both offensive and defensive purposes. Sri Lanka’s delicate economic situation complicates the matter, as it continues to navigate the geopolitical waters of the region.

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