July 11 (Diplomat) Last week, China donated a frigate to the Sri Lankan Navy. While the development itself was hardly surprising, it nonetheless highlighted the continuing contest between India and China in India's neighborhood in spite of ongoing efforts by both sides to manage their wider relationship.
The frigate arrived in Colombo Port earlier this week. The Commander of the Sri Lankan Navy, Vice Admiral Piyal De Silva, thanked China for the gift and said that this reflected the "good friendship between the two countries." Commander De Silva went on to add that Sri Lanka faces many maritime challenges and that the frigate, now designated 'P 625', will be mainly used for offshore patrol, environment monitoring and anti-piracy efforts.
The vessel reportedly comes with a main turret holding dual Type 79 100 mm cannons and two Type 76A dual-37 mm Anti-Aircraft Guns at the aft. It also has a helipad and hangar to store and operate a medium-size helicopter. A statement from the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka said that in addition to the donation, the PLA Navy had also conducted a two-month professional training for more than 110 Sri Lankan naval officers and sailors in Shanghai, China.
The donation of the frigate comes against the backdrop of a major Chinese aid to Sri Lanka to fight terrorism. In May, China decided to provide Sri Lanka with aid to the tune of $14 million for Colombo to procure China-made counterinsurgency equipment. The decision was taken during President Maithripala Sirisena's visit to Beijing in mid-May, and the president's office stated that this will be important in enhancing the wherewithal of the Sri Lankan security forces. Reports suggest that China will also be providing the Sri Lankan police with 150 vehicles.
Much like Beijing's interest in other of India's neighbors including the Maldives, China's interests in Sri Lanka are more strategic than economic. Developments such as the visit of a Chinese nuclear submarine to Colombo during the Rajapaksa tenure was a wakeup call as well as a reminder to India of the extent of China's strategic in roads in Sri Lanka. The China-Sri Lanka relationship reached a peak during the final phase of the Sri Lankan war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The political and defense support extended by China to Colombo, in the face of international condemnation on account of the extensive human rights abuses, was significant.