Explained: China’s ‘spy ship’ controversy and India’s ‘spy’ concerns

The Chinese research vessel Yuan Wang 5 arrived at the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota on Tuesday, apparently for refueling. He is due to stay there from August 16 to 22. The presence of the ship sparked a lot of controversy, especially when India warned Sri Lanka against possible Chinese espionage. Although India’s concerns were heard, the island nation decided to allow the Yuan Wang 5 to dock, but on a date other than the originally scheduled August 11 arrival date.

The spy ship

The Yuan Wang 5 is a third-generation ship in a line of ships that entered service in 2007 to serve China’s human space program. It is 222 meters long and 25.2 meters wide. The ship is a state-of-the-art vessel for tracking satellites and missiles.

The Yuan Wang 5 can track the launch of satellites, rockets and intercontinental ballistic missiles, conduct transoceanic aerospace observations using satellite imagery, and transfer data to tracking stations in Beijing and throughout China.

Disguise of “research ship”

The Yuan Wang 5 has a stellar track record after being used for several months. The launch of China’s Long March 5B rocket last month was the subject of the ship’s latest observation trip. He recently participated in the maritime surveillance of the launch of the first laboratory module of the Chinese Tiangong Space Station.

The Yuan Wang 5 was under the command of the Chinese Navy, officially known as the People’s Liberation Army Navy, according to the US Department of Defense. China claimed the vessel was a research vessel.

Why Hambantota?

After the port of Colombo, Hambantota is the second port of Sri Lanka. It started operating in 2010 before being privatized and leased to China for 99 years in 2017. Many believe this was the result of Chinese “debt trap” diplomacy.

The Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal, which connect Asia to Europe and are used by 36,000 ships every year, including thousands of tankers, are located 10 nautical miles from the Port of Hambantota. Hambantota Port is one of Sri Lanka’s most diverse deep-sea ports due to its proximity to the route used for much of the maritime oil trade.

Additionally, the port of Hambantota is strategically important due to its proximity to the southernmost point of India, especially in terms of espionage and long-range espionage.

India’s concerns

Given the ship’s state-of-the-art equipment and 750 km aerial observation range, its presence at Hambantota could theoretically allow it to spy on defense sites in southern India.

China could use the Yuan Wang 5 to spy on military bases, ports and nuclear power plants in Kalpakkam and Kudankulam, the latter being India’s largest nuclear power plant, as well as Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.

Sarabananda Sonowal, India’s Minister for Ports, Shipping and Waterways, said on August 14 that India was ready to deal with any security threats posed by the vessel’s presence in Sri Lanka “We are well equipped and well-prepared to effectively handle any type of situation under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

(with agency contributions)

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