Mint Explainer: Why India’s antsy about a Chinese ship heading to the Maldives | Mint

Mint Explainer: Why India’s antsy about a Chinese ship heading to the Maldives

The Maldives has welcomed China's research vessel to dock in its waters despite India’s objections. (HT)
The Maldives has welcomed China's research vessel to dock in its waters despite India’s objections. (HT)

Summary

Although it’s a research vessel, experts fear that data related to seabeds and oceans could be useful to China in planning future conflicts and for executing submarine warfare operations in the Indian Ocean

The impending visit of a Chinese research vessel to the Maldives has caused alarm in India’s strategic community. While the ship’s classified as a research vessel meant to map the floor of the Indian Ocean, Indian officials consider it to be a spy ship. Sri Lanka denied permission for the Chinese vessel to dock in its territory. The Maldives, however, has welcomed the vessel to dock in its waters despite India’s objections. 

This comes as the newly elected administration in Malé, with a clear anti-India poll mandate, warms up to Beijing over New Delhi, including asking India to withdraw its troops from the island nation. Mint breaks down why India is unhappy with the Chinese vessel making its way through the Indian Ocean to the Maldives. 

What exactly is happening?

On Monday, news surfaced that a Chinese research vessel, Xiang Yang Hong 3, will be visiting the Maldives in the coming weeks. The vessel had earlier requested permission to visit Sri Lanka but this was denied. According to numerous reports, the Indian government is aware of the vessel’s movements and is tracking it closely. 

What is India’s concern?

Over the last few years, a number of such Chinese vessels have visited the Indian Ocean. India is concerned that these ships, which have advanced surveillance capabilities, are deployed to track sensitive Indian military tests as well. Experts say collection of data related to seabeds and oceans by these Chinese vessels could be useful to Beijing in planning future conflicts and for executing submarine warfare operations.

What does this say about the China-Maldives relationship?

During the tenure of former Maldives president Ibrahim Solih, the nation saw little by way of military cooperation with China. However, this research vessel visit comes at a time when newly elected president Mohamed Muizzu has worked to improve ties with China. The country was the site of his first visit as president and saw a slew of agreements have been signed. 

The upswing in bilateral ties may lead to increased Chinese military presence in the Indian Ocean. However, analysts have pointed out that Muizzu’s government has said little about reviving a proposal for a joint observation facility that has been in cold storage for some time. This may point to Muizzu’s desire to balance India’s influence in the region without tilting too much towards China. 

How is India likely to react? 

While India has not commented on this latest development yet, New Delhi is unlikely to be pleased. Muizzu’s government has allowed an agreement on hydrographic cooperation with India’s military to expire and has also asked for Indian military personnel to leave the country. The Chinese vessel’s visit to the Maldives will add to the tensions between the two sides. India also reacted negatively during previous visits by Chinese vessels to Sri Lanka. 

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