Chinese spy ship Xiang Yang Hong-03 en route to dock at Maldives amid India's concerns

Team India Sentinels Monday 22nd of January 2024 02:13 PM

Xiang Yang Hong-03. (Photo via Facebook)

New Delhi: The Maldives has granted permission for a Chinese research vessel, widely suspected of being a spy ship, to dock in its capital Male at the end of this month, despite pressure from India and other countries. The decision by the Maldivian president, Mohamed Muizzu, is yet another signal of a shift in the diplomatic relations of the atoll nation, which has traditionally been close to India.

The Chinese vessel, Xiang Yang Hong-03, is a 4173.05-tonne (4,600-ton) ship equipped with advanced survey and surveillance equipment. It is part of a fleet of Chinese spy ships that have been conducting “scientific exploration” in the Indian Ocean Region under the pretext of mapping the seabed and studying the marine environment. However, experts believe that these ships are collecting valuable data on the underwater terrain, submarine cables, missile telemetry, and naval activities of the countries in the region, especially India, which considers the IOR as its strategic backyard.

As India Sentinels had reported in August 2022, after India raising its concerns with Sri Lanka over a Chinese spy ship’s scheduled stoppage at the country’s Hambantota port, Colombo asked Beijing to change the ship’s planned visit. In December 2022, just ahead of a scheduled missile test by India, the same Chinese spy ship, Yuan Wang-5, entered the Indian Ocean Region through the Sunda Strait, off Indonesia.

The Xiang Yang Hong-03 was initially scheduled to visit Sri Lanka in January, but the Sri Lankan government denied permission for the docking and imposed a year-long ban on all Chinese spy ships, following India’s objections and security concerns. India has also raised its voice against the presence of Chinese spy ships in the IOR, as it sees them as a threat to its national security and maritime interests.

The United States has also expressed its worries about China's increasing naval activities and influence in the IOR, which is a vital trade route and a hotspot of geopolitical tensions.

However, Maldives has defied India’s concerns and is set to welcome the spy ship, as part of its – what is now widely believed to be – pro-China and anti-India stance under the Muizzu administration. Muizzu, who came to power in October 2023 after defeating the pro-India incumbent Ibrahim Solih, made his first overseas trip as president to China, breaking the convention of previous Maldivian leaders who always chose India for their maiden visits.

Muizzu has also signed several agreements with China during his vice president's visit to Beijing in December, the details of which have been kept secret. Moreover, Muizzu has asked India to withdraw its military assistance and personnel from Maldives, as he seeks to reduce the Maldives’ dependence on India. Male has also cancelled a hydrography pact between the Indian Navy and the Maldives National Defence Force.

The Maldives’ decision to host the Chinese spy ship has irked India, which has been trying to maintain its influence and goodwill in the region through its “Neighbourhood First” policy and humanitarian assistance. India has also been wary of China’s “String of Pearls” strategy, which involves building ports, bases, and infrastructure projects in the countries surrounding India, such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and the Maldives.

New Delhi fears that Beijing is encircling it with a network of military and economic assets, and undermining its role and interests in the IOR.


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