New Delhi: A China ship able to track ballistic missiles and satellites heading for a Sri Lanka port has raised security concerns in India. The move coincides with the Chinese build-up off Taiwan coast that started with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit.
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The Yuan Wang Class ship -- expected to dock in Hambantota Port on August 11 or 12 -- tracks satellites and intercontinental ballistic missiles. The ship, which has a crew of 400, is equipped with a large parabolic tracking antenna and various sensors.
If deployed in parts of the Indian Ocean, the ship may be able to monitor India's missile tests from Wheeler Island off the coast of Odisha.
By tracking Indian ballistic missile tests, China will be able to glean information on the performance of missiles and their exact range.
The Sri Lankan government has told NDTV that they will allow the ship to dock since it is a non-nuclear platform but are aware of India's concerns. "China informed us that they are sending their ship for surveillance and navigation in the Indian Ocean," said Sri Lanka's Defence Ministry media spokesman Colonel Nalin Herath.
Indian government sources said they are monitoring the progress of the ship. India has made it clear it will closely monitor "any bearing on India's security and economic interests and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them".
The Yuan Wang is likely to avoid the busy straits of Malacca and enter the Indian Ocean through other Indonesian straits.
The ship is controlled by the China National Space Administration but has very significant military applications.
India remains suspicious of China's growing influence in Sri Lanka, which owes large amounts of money to Beijing for infrastructure projects, including the $1.4-billion Hambantota Port.
Sri Lanka gave a Chinese company a 99-year lease on the port, located along the main East-West international shipping lanes, in 2017 after being unable to keep up with debt repayments on the facility. Sri Lanka defaulted on its $51 billion in foreign debts in April and has since opened bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund.
In 2014, a Chinese submarine had docked at Hambantota Port, sparking security concerns for the Indian Navy. No such Chinese submarine visits to Lankan ports took place since.