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Explained: Yuan Wang 5, India’s concerns and China’s retraction

From Hambantota, the Chinese vessel can snoop on Southern Naval Command in Kochi

Yuan Wang 5twitter Yuan Wang 5 | Twitter

The visit of Chinese space- satellite tracker vessel Yuan Wang 5 to Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port has been deferred 'until further consultations,' as the visit caused several tensions in the diplomatic relations of the Island nation with its neighbouring countries like India. The vessel which was due to dock at the Chinese leased Hambantota port on August 11 and stay on till August 17, has slowed down its navigation.

The vessel, according to Maritimeoptima.com, a digital tracking platform, is around 600 nautical miles away from the Hambantota port and has also slowed down its voyage to reach the Sri Lankan out. India had earlier expressed its concerns against the visit of Yuan Wang 5, the satellite tracker, known to be a spy ship. 

In a statement, the Sri Lankan foreign ministry said that it has communicated to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, to defer the visit of the Chinese vessel Yuan Wang 5. “The ministry wishes to request that the arrival date of the vessel Yuan Wang 5 in Hambantota to be deferred until further consultations are made in this matter,” a statement from the Sri Lankan ministry of foreign affairs said. Reacting to India’s concerns, China termed it as “senseless” and urged India “not to disturb the normal exchanges between China and Sri Lanka.” China’s foreign ministry on Monday hit out at India for expressing concerns. Talking about Sri Lanka’s request to defer the visit of Yuan Wang 5, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “China always exercised freedom of navigation in the high seas and fully respects the jurisdiction of coastal states of scientific exploration activities within their jurisdiction waters.”

However, the Sri Lankan government has reportedly granted permission to the Chinese built-Pakistani guided missile frigate Pakistan Navy Ship (PNS) Taimur to make a port call at Colombo on its way to join the Pakistan Navy in Karachi. Built at the Hudong-Zhonghua shipyard in Shanghai, the warship with armaments is on its maiden voyage to Pakistan. On the way, PNS Taimur had also exercised at Cambodian Navy and then participated in a bilateral exercise with the Malaysian Navy called MAL-PAK IV. PNS Taimur will dock at the Colombo port from August 12 to 15 and then move on to Pakistan. 

Yuan Wang 5 and its features

Built at Jiangnan shipyard in China, Yuan Wang 5 entered service in 2007. Called a Research vessel by the Chinese, it is a tracking ship which can spy. It has state-of-the-art tracking technology onboard for transoceanic aerospace observation. At least 222 meters long and 25.2 meters wide, the Yuan Wang 5 is involved in space and satellite tracking.

China’s Yuan Wang 5 is a third-generation space-tracking ship of China’s Yuan Wang series and it has been sailing for different missions since 2007. Yuan Wang 5 recently, successfully completed a maritime monitoring mission for the launch of Wentian laboratory cabin module of the Tiangong space station, which is the first lab module of the China Space Station. The ship has by far sailed safely over 5,80,000 nautical miles. It was also in operation for maritime tracking and measuring mission for the launch of the Long March-5B rocket in 2020 in the Pacific Ocean for more than 81 days and navigated over 20,000 nautical miles passing through several international ports.

The Hambantota Port

The Hambantota port is located at the southern tip of Sri Lanka, facing the East-West shipping route, at least 10 nautical miles from the world’s busiest maritime route that links Europe and Asia. Located less than 160kms from mainland India, Hambantota port is a strategic worry for the country. In other words, from Hambantota, it is easy to spy on Indian vessels and ports.

Hambantota connects South East Asia with Africa and West Asia. It is one of the important ports in China’s Belt Road Initiative. Hambantota port development began during the Rajapaksa regime in 2010 and the first phase was constructed by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) under a 15-year loan from EXIM bank of China. Hambantota port is part of China’s silk route connecting six other ports in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Africa. 

India’s concern

Its range is almost 700 to 750kms, meaning the vessel can spy on India,- till the ISRO satellite base at Sriharikota and also the Kalpakkam Atomic power plant. It can also snoop on the Kudankulam Nuclear Power plant, the atomic energy plant at Kalpakkam, the six naval ports across Southern India and also the southern naval command at Kochi. Observers who closely monitor the geopolitics around the Indo-Pacific say that this is part of China’s plans to dominate the Indian Ocean, which saw a setback in the last few years, after India got the support of the other three players in the Quad countries - US, Japan and Australia.

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