The Chinese military survey vessel Yuan Wang 5 will dock at the Chinese-run port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka on August 16.
The stopover was initially scheduled for August 11, but was delayed at the request of the Sri Lankan government. Beijing initially blamed the Indian government for the delay. Hambantota has long been a point of geopolitical tension, with critics citing it as a clear example of Chinese debt diplomacy and attempts to create permanent military outposts in the Indian Ocean.
The off and on nature of the port visit highlights the continued importance of Sri Lanka’s alignment both for the Chinese and Indian governments. Further, the visit comes at the height of Sri Lanka’s protracted economic woes, which leaves the country particularly susceptible to financial and debt-based diplomacy. While Sri Lanka has long been a destination for Belt and Road Initiative projects, Indian has recently stepped up its financial aid to the country.
Military port visits are an important tool for strategic messaging, and future port visits will continue to attract high level attention. Given that Sri Lanka ultimately allowed the Yuan Wang 5 to dock, China will likely continue to conduct regular port visits in the region, regardless of India’s reaction.
Grant is an Analyst with Foreign Brief and he is an EA-18G Growler pilot in the US Naval Reserve. He holds a master's degree with distinction from the University of London SOAS and focuses on security issues in the Asia Pacific.