The US has expressed its concern to Sri Lanka about a Chinese research ship likely to dock in the island country next month, a development India too finds concerning.

According to media reports, US Under Secretary Victoria Nuland, who met Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, raised concerns about the upcoming visit of the Chinese research vessel ‘Shi Yan 6’.

Last year, India had objected to a Chinese ship docking in the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota.

Why is the Chinese ship coming to Sri Lanka? Why does India oppose this? What has happened in similar situations earlier?

According to AFP, Chinese state broadcaster CGTN said the Shi Yan 6 is a “scientific research vessel” with a 60-member crew, which carries out oceanography, marine geology and marine ecology tests. Beijing had sought Colombo’s permission to dock the ship last month, but the final date and port have seemingly not been decided.

PTI reported that the Chinese research vessel is expected in the island country in October to carry out research along with Sri Lanka’s National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA). “Described as a Research/Survey Vessel with a carrying capacity of 1115 DWT [deadweight tonnage], the current draught is reported to be 5.3 metres in length overall 90.6 metres and width 17 metres,” said PTI.

Why does India object to Chinese vessels docking in Sri Lanka?

India considers Chinese ships docked so close to its mainland a security threat, and suspects they could be used for snooping, even when their stated aim is scientific research.

The US too had earlier this year shot down what it called a Chinese spy balloon floating over its territory, while Beijing said it was a weather balloon.

What happened last year?

India raised objections to a Chinese ballistic missile and satellite tracking ship staying at Hambantota port on Sri Lanka’s southern coast for a week. While Sri Lanka had earlier asked China to postpone the arrival of the hi-tech vessel following Indian concerns, it later made a U-turn and allowed the docking.

The vessel, Yuan Wang 5, is used to track satellite, rocket and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launches. India had feared that the Yuan Wang 5’s significant aerial reach — reportedly around 750 km — would mean that several ports in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh would be on China’s radar, and several vital installations in south India could be snooped upon.