India and China ministers at summit as PLA ship’s planned neighborhood visit angers Delhi

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NEW DELHI, July 29 (Reuters) – Indian and Chinese foreign ministers attended a regional conference in Uzbekistan on Friday, a day after New Delhi expressed concern over a planned visit by a Chinese military vessel to a port strategic location of India’s southern neighbour, Sri Lanka.

New Delhi fears that the Chinese-built and leased Hambantota port in Sri Lanka could be used by China as a military base in India’s backyard. The $1.5 billion port is located near the main shipping route between Asia and Europe.

Relations between India and China have been strained since armed clashes on their border two years ago killed at least 20 Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers and led to a massive buildup of troops on both sides.

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Indian media said Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, who last met in Indonesia earlier this month, may hold a bilateral meeting in the Uzbek capital Tashkent on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conference. India’s foreign ministry said it had no information about it.

Refinitiv Eikon shipping data showed the Chinese research and survey vessel Yuan Wang 5 was en route to Hambantota and due to arrive on August 11, at a time when Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since. seven decades. India has provided its neighbor nearly $4 billion in support this year alone.

China has not officially commented on the ship’s visit, and the case has not gained traction in Chinese media. The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Foreign security analysts describe the Yuan Wang 5 as one of China’s latest-generation space-tracking vessels, used to monitor launches of satellites, rockets and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military modernization says Yuan Wang ships are operated by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Strategic Support Force.

At a weekly briefing on Thursday evening, a spokesman for India’s foreign ministry said the government was monitoring the Chinese vessel’s planned visit, adding that New Delhi would protect its security and economic interests. Read more

India has already lodged a verbal protest with the Sri Lankan government against the ship’s visit, Reuters reported on Thursday.

A Sri Lankan consultancy, the Belt & Road Initiative Sri Lanka, said on its website that the Yuan Wang 5 would be in Hambantota for a week and “perform space tracking, satellite monitoring and tracking of research in the northwestern part of the Indian Ocean region”. to August and September.

Sri Lanka formally handed over commercial operations at its main southern port to a Chinese company in 2017 on a 99-year lease after struggling to repay debt.

China is one of Sri Lanka’s biggest lenders and has also financed airports, roads and railways, worrying India, which is now trying to recoup lost ground.

Sri Lanka angered India in 2014 when it allowed a Chinese submarine and warship to dock in Colombo.

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Reporting by Krishna N. Das in New Delhi, Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Greg Torode in Hong Kong; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Mark Heinrich

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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