Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence has granted clearance for the docking of a Chinese ocean research vessel, marking the first such approval in over a year. The vessel, expected to arrive at Colombo, will conduct operations in the east Indian Ocean region for nearly three months.
Chinese research vessels often serve dual purposes, primarily scientific exploration alongside geopolitical objectives. The announcement regarding the ship, named “Shi Yan 6,” stated its mission as strengthening scientific research cooperation and exchanges with countries along the Maritime Silk Road, further aligning with the Belt and Road Initiative’s integration of science and education.
This development follows the arrival of another Chinese research ship, “Yuan Wang 5,” at Hambantota port in Sri Lanka in August of the previous year. Concerns raised by India and the US led to Sri Lanka permitting the docking but with conditions that included keeping the Automatic Identification System (AIS) switched on within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and refraining from conducting scientific research. The episode had triggered diplomatic tensions between Indian and Chinese officials.
In response, Sri Lanka had announced the development of a “standard operating procedure” for future port calls by foreign research vessels and military craft. However, it remains unclear whether this procedure has been finalized or if similar restrictions will be imposed on the Chinese vessel.
Chinese “research ships” have recently been involved in maritime confrontations with countries such as Vietnam and Taiwan. In May, a Chinese research ship, Xiang Yang Hong 10, led a flotilla of vessels into Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Similar incidents have occurred in the waters near Taiwan, raising concerns about the dual nature of such vessels’ missions.