Sri Lanka received a warship as a gift from China last week, in yet another sign that the island nation is deepening defence cooperation with Beijing. The thickening of ties between China and Sri Lanka is something that India is wary of, given the strategic nature of the waters of the Indian Ocean.
The 2,300-tonne Chinese made frigate P625, a Type 053 'Tongling' warship, arrived in Colombo last week. The Commander of the Sri Lankan Navy, Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva, thanked China and said that the military will accept the gift as a "suggestion of good friendship between the two countries," reported Xinhua.
De Silva said the warship will enhance surveillance capabilities - mainly in offshore patrol, environment monitoring and anti-piracy combats. Sri Lanka is facing maritime security issues as the surrounding regional waters are notorious for illegal activities including drug trafficking.
Naval ships as gifts
The 'Tongling' warship was decommissioned by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in 2015 after serving the PLA Navy requirements for 21 years. The Chinese Navy held a two-month-long professional training drill with more than 110 Sri Lankan naval officers and sailors in Shanghai, according to a statement by the Chinese embassy in Colombo.
The Sri Lankan Navy maintains 50 combat, support ships and inshore patrol craft, and a majority of these were supplied by India, the US and Israel. India gifted the Lankan navy three Off-shore Patrol Vessels (OPV) in 2006, 2008 and 2019.
In 2018, former Sri Lankan Navy chief Admiral Jayanath Colombage, who authored a book titled "Asymmetrical Warfare a Sea", advised Sri Lanka to exercise caution in accepting gifts as the ageing vessels come with high maintenance costs.
"Old naval vessels, gifted or bought, would have finished their service with their mother navies. Given their age, the engine and other equipment on board, and the hull will have to undergo frequent maintenance and repairs," said Colombage.
According to Colombage, the vessels provided by India have served Sri Lanka the best despite being old due to Sri Lankan centric modification by India.
Sri Lanka has been internationally warned against China's debt-trap diplomacy, following the Chinese acquisition of the Hambantota port in 2017.
China has also announced that it will deliver nine "new type" of diesel trains to Sri Lanka, which are specially designed to cater to the high-temperature and high-humidity in Sri Lanka.