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South Africa Says Contentious Chinese Ship is for Research, Not Surveillance

Yuan Wang 2, sister ship to Yuan Wang 5 in China's Yuan Wang-class tracking ships. Photo taken in 2005. Credit: Gadfium

South Africa Says Contentious Chinese Ship is for Research, Not Surveillance

Total Views: 5968
April 6, 2023

By Prinesha Naidoo (Bloomberg) —

A Chinese ship — capable of tracking rocket and spacecraft launches — that docked at a South African port is a research vehicle and not a surveillance vessel, the African nation’s port operator said. 

The Yuan Wang 5 was in Durban port for refueling, fresh water and replenishments, South Africa’s Transnet National Ports Authority said in an emailed response on Thursday. Its presence has previously raised concern in India, China’s geopolitical rival, which in August objected to the ship’s visit to Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port. 

The vessel’s berthing comes less than two months after South Africa drew the ire of Western nations by holding naval exercises with China and Russia and may add to fears that Africa’s most industrialized economy is moving closer to the two countries. That’s even as the bulk of its total trade is with Western nations. 

The ports operator isn’t aware of the objective of the vessel’s mission in South African waters because it “doesn’t have a mandate to request such information,” it said. Those details are gathered during a security clearance process that’s facilitated by the authorities, including the Department of Transport, before a ship enters the port limits, Transnet said. The Department of Transport didn’t immediately respond to queries. 

The vessel left Durban for high seas and plans to call at the port of Cape Town in a month’s time, Transnet said. 

South Africa has courted criticism from the US and its allies for refusing to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and holding the naval exercise with several Russian and Chinese vessels off its east coast in February over the first anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict. Pretoria is currently contemplating whether to allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend a BRICS bloc summit it will host in August.

–With assistance from Antony Sguazzin.

© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.

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