Writing in the Sri Lankan Guardian, Chinese Ambassador Qi Zhenhon sparked outrage as he publicly attacked India for its attempt to block a Chinese military vessel, “Yuan Wang 5”, from docking at the southern Sri Lankan port of Hambantota and slammed the US House Speaker’s visit to Taiwan.
“External obstruction based on so-called ‘security concerns’ but without any evidence from certain forces is de facto a thorough interference into Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and independence” Zhenhon alleged.
Despite the protests of Indian officials to Colombo, the Sri Lankan government u-turned on its decision to postpone the docking of the Chinese vessel, which Indian security intelligence determined to be a “spy ship”. The ship was welcomed by Sri Lankan parliamentarians on the 16th August and remained docked there till the 22nd. In response to the Chinese expedition, India’s security forces stepped its surveillance of the Palk Straights with navy helicopters being seen monitoring the ocean.
The Chinese ambassador further took aim at the US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, for her recent high-profile visit to Taiwan. The ambassador claimed it was a “serious violation of the One-China Principle and the provisions of the three China-U.S. joint communiqués”.
“It seriously infringes on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, gravely undermines peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and sends a seriously wrong signal to the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces” he asserted.
The ambassador warns that such “extremely irresponsible and irrational acts by the US side” disregard the “general principle of non-interference, national sovereignty, and territorial integrity” rendering these norms into “a mere scrap of paper”. Such actions may lead the world to “slide back to jungle rules and barbarian times” the ambassador insisted.
Zhenhon’s piece goes on to assert that such provocation encourages “separatists and extremists” and imperils “the peace and security” enjoyed by countries like Sri Lanka. He reaffirmed China’s unwavering support for Sri Lanka stating that “any infringement on the national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka shall not be tolerated”.
The ambassador concludes by questioning if at the next UN Human Rights Council session whether the US and India will “again use human rights as a cover-up tool to interfere into the island nation’s internal affairs and continue to rub salt into the wound of Sri Lankan people”.
India hits back
Responding to the attack by China’s ambassador, the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka took to Twitter lambasting the Chinese diplomat, claiming that his lack of “basic diplomatic etiquette may be a personal trait or reflecting a larger national attitude”.
We have noted the remarks of the Chinese Ambassador. His violation of basic diplomatic etiquette may be a personal trait or reflecting a larger national attitude.(1/3)
— India in Sri Lanka (@IndiainSL) August 27, 2022
The Indian embassy added the ambassador’s views “of Sri Lanka’s northern neighbour may be coloured by how his own country behaves. India, we assure him is very different”.
Increasingly Indian officials are growing concerned over an aggressive China and the possibility that Hambantota port, which is owned by the Chinese, may be used as a military base.
Whilst Sri Lanka’s president has spoken glowingly of the Indian government and the aid provided, the island has not pushed back against Chinese advances. The Yuan Wang 5 was welcomed by politicians such as former state minister Sarath Weerasekara, who stressed that the country’s foreign policy was one of “neutrality”.
In part, Sri Lanka’s obedience to Beijing can be explained in reference to as the Asian giant is one of the island’s largest creditors. Whilst Sri Lanka’s president has made an urgent request for debt restructuring, China has been reluctant, instead offering to refinance loans.
However, across the Sinhala south there is deep animosity towards the country’s northern neighbour with historic opposition to engagement with India. Under the Rajapaksa’s, Sri Lanka saw a strengthening of relations with China. Despite this, Sri Lanka's president has claimed that whilst the "geopolitical situation is heating up [...] so far we have been able to keep it out and look at our [debt problem] in a purely economic manner”.
In his statement, Qi Zhenhon thanked President Ranil Wickremesinghe for his support over the dispute over Taiwan. In the past, Sri Lanka has supported China’s growing influence in the region by pushing back against the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue Alliance and even defending the country’s genocidal treatment of Uighur Muslims.
Read Zhehon's full statement here.