The Agence France Presse reports that Sri Lanka has asked China to indefinitely delay a visit by the Yuan Wang 5 vessel, following intense pressure by India.
The Yuan Wang 5 is en route from the Chinese port of Jiangyin and due in the Chinese-run port of Hambantota on Thursday, according to analytics website MarineTraffic.
It is described as a research and survey vessel, but according to Indian broadcaster CNN-News18 is a dual-use spy ship, employed for space and satellite tracking and with specific usage in intercontinental ballistic missile launches.
Indian media reports said that New Delhi was worried the vessel would be used to spy on its activities and that it had lodged a complaint with Colombo.
India remains suspicious of China’s growing influence in Sri Lanka.
New Delhi’s foreign ministry last week said that it will closely monitor “any bearing on India’s security and economic interests and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them”.
An official involved in the process has told AFP today, “In a written request, the Sri Lanka foreign ministry told the Chinese embassy in Colombo not to go ahead with the visit.”
“The ministry wishes to request that the arrival date of the vessel Yuan Wang 5 in Hambantota to be deferred until further consultations are made on this matter,” the request says.
Earlier this week, Colombo appeared to brush aside Indian concerns, saying the vessel was coming only to refuel and replenish supplies and would not undertake any work in Sri Lankan waters.
India objected strongly when two Chinese submarines berthed in Sri Lanka in 2014.