After being asked by Sri Lanka to defer the visit of one of its survey ships, China on Monday said it was “completely unjustified” for other countries to pressurize Colombo citing security concerns and “grossly interfere” in its internal affairs, PTI reported.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin did not mention India in his comments, but the development followed reports of security concerns raised by New Delhi about the docking of the Yuan Wang 5 vessel in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port between August 11 and August 17.

Last month, Sri Lanka had permitted China to dock the tracking and survey vessel for refuelling. However, the presence of a Chinese tracking ship raised an alarm in New Delhi.

Several reports claimed that India had asked Sri Lanka not to allow the Chinese vessel in its ports. Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi on July 28 said that New Delhi was aware of the proposed visit.

“Let me just say that the government carefully monitors any development having a bearing on India’s security and economic interests and takes all necessary measures to safeguard them,” he had said. “I think that should be a clear message.”

In a statement issued late on Monday, the Sri Lankan foreign ministry said that the Chinese vessel was no more allowed to dock at the port.

“Subsequently in light of the need for further consultations, the Ministry has communicated to the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Colombo to defer the visit of the said vessel to the Hambantota port,” the statement noted.

Colombo had verbally conveyed its decision to China on Friday, following which Chinese Ambassador Qi Zhenhong met Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe, according to The Hindu.

Hours after Sri Lanka issued the official statement on Monday, China said that the island nation has the right to develop relations with other countries based on its development interests.

“To have normal cooperation is the independent choice made by our two countries,” Beijing foreign ministry spokesperson Wang said. “It serves the shared interests of both sides and does not target any third party.”

The spokesperson also said it was “morally irresponsible” and against the norms of international relations for countries to “exploit [the] vulnerabilities” of Sri Lanka at a time when it is dealing with economic and political crises.

India’s concerns about the Hambantota port are not new. In 2017, Colombo leased the port to China Merchant Port Holdings for 99 years, after Sri Lanka was unable to keep its loan repayment commitments, fanning fears over the potential use of the port for Beijing’s military purposes.