In a notable diplomatic move, Sri Lanka took a decisive step by closing its ports to a Chinese submarine and research vessel whereas the nation extended a warm welcome to the Indian Navy submarine INS Karanj, just ahead of its Independence Day celebrations.
On its way to Colombo Port, the Indian Navy submarine INS Karanj arrived before the scheduled arrival of China’s People Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s ‘research vessel,’ Xiang Yang Hong 3, in Malé on February 8.
Despite India expressing security concerns, Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s government accepted China’s diplomatic request on January 23, permitting the ‘research vessel’ to dock at the main port in Malé.
In a recent decision by the Sri Lankan government, led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, China’s research vessels are prohibited from docking at Sri Lankan ports or operating in the country’s exclusive economic zone for a period of one year.
Permitting INS Karanj to dock in Sri Lanka, India seeks to underscore its pivotal role as the primary security provider in the Indian Ocean region. This move also serves as a robust message to the Chinese PLA Navy, which has recently escalated its maritime activities in India’s neighbourhood.
INS Karanj’s recent port call to Colombo coincides with Sri Lanka imposing a year-long moratorium on foreign research vessels in its waters starting January 1. This move is considered a significant diplomatic and strategic victory for India, highlighting concerns about Chinese spy vessels conducting surveys in the Indian Ocean under the guise of scientific tests.
Chinese submarines, operating in the shallow waters of the Malacca Strait and East Indian Ocean Region are collecting invaluable data which is a big concern for India. Using ‘research vessels,’ the Chinese PLA Navy conducts hydrographic surveys, charts underwater paths for submarines, monitors missile and satellite tests, and keeps tabs on military installations in neighbouring countries.
Sri Lanka faces pressure from China after leasing Hambantota Port for 99 years. The move, near India, occurred when Sri Lanka couldn’t repay Chinese firms. In the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) the situation intensifies as the Maldives’ new President opposes India, allowing a Chinese spy vessel denied by Sri Lanka to dock in Malé.
India worries about China’s use of permitted ballistic missile trackers and research ships for potential spying. Additionally, concerns arise over China building an ocean observatory in Makunudhoo, Maldives.
INS Karanj, a Kalvari-class diesel-electric submarine from the Indian Navy, participated in a submarine awareness program in Sri Lanka. The commanding officer, Commander Arunabh, called on Rear Admiral Saman Perera, while India’s envoy to Colombo, Santosh Jha, interacted with the crew during a visit to the submarine. INS Karanj is a Scorpene-class submarine designed by the French naval group DCNS and manufactured by Mazagon Dock Limited in Mumbai.