Sri Lanka says it has granted permission for a controversial Chinese research vessel to visit the island, despite security concerns raised by neighbouring India.
The Yuan Wang 5 is described as a research and survey vessel by international shipping and analytics sites, but according to Indian media, it is a dual-use spy ship.
Both China and India have tried to expand their influence in Sri Lanka, which is facing its worst economic crisis in its post-independence history.
India has provided more help to Sri Lanka this year than any other nation. But it fears its bigger and more powerful rival China will use the Hambantota port near the main Asia-Europe shipping route as a military base.
The Yuan Wang 5 was initially due to arrive in a port in Hambantota on the southern coast of Sri Lanka on August 11, but will now arrive on Tuesday, the foreign ministry said.
The visit had initially been approved on July 12, a day before former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled following months of protests against the country’s economic crisis.
Rajapaksa – whose brother Mahinda borrowed heavily from China while president from 2005 to 2015 – resigned after escaping to Singapore.
Tens of thousands of protesters overran his palace and home in Colombo after accusing him of economic mismanagement that has led to acute shortages of food, fuel and medicines.
Sri Lanka leased the Hambantota deep sea port to China for 99 years for $1.12bn, less than the $1.4bn Sri Lanka paid a Chinese company to build it.
According to Indian reports, the Yuan Wang 5 could be employed for space and satellite tracking, and has specific uses in intercontinental ballistic missile launches.
India’s foreign ministry has said it will closely monitor “any bearing on India’s security and economic interests and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them”.
India has rejected claims that it has put pressure on Sri Lanka to turn the vessel away.
“We reject categorically the ‘insinuation’ and such statement about India. Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and makes its own independent decisions,” Arindam Bagchi, a foreign ministry spokesman, said.