New Delhi: The Maldives has confirmed the docking of the Chinese spy ship Xiang Yang Hong-03 in Male, on Tuesday, which has raised security concerns in India, as India Sentinels had reported on Monday. India had raised objections when China sought permission from Male and Colombo to permit its spy ship to dock at their ports for deep water exploration within the Indian Ocean.
While Sri Lanka has rejected Beijing’s request, the ship is heading in the direction of the Maldives, whose current president, Mohamed Muizzu, is widely perceived to be a pro-China leader.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Maldivian foreign ministry said the Chinese government made a diplomatic request for the necessary clearances for the spy ship to make a port call for the rotation of personnel and replenishment. However, in the statement, Male also tried to allay New Delhi’s concerns and said the ship would not conduct any research while in the Maldivian waters.
India has been raising concerns about China’s evolving presence in the Indian Ocean Region and its influence in Sri Lanka, which is strategically halfway along the crucial east-west international shipping channels. However, as India Sentinels had reported in August 2022, after India raised 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. Currently, Colombo has suspended entry of foreign spy ships in its territorial waters for a year.
Relations between the Maldives and India have strained since the time Muizzu took charge of the atoll nation’s presidency in November 2023, shifting his government’s focus toward China and asking for the withdrawal of close to 80 Indian troops placed in the Maldives.
The decision from the Maldivian government to allow the Chinese ship to dock at the Male port comes amid a diplomatic stand-off with the Indian government after several Maldivian ministers shared objectionable tweets against the prime minister, Narendra Modi, and India over Modi’s Lakshadweep visit in December 2023.
The Chinese spy ship, which Beijing says is a “research” vessel, en route to the Maldives has set alarm bells ringing in New Delhi. India had raised objections when China sought permission from Male and Colombo to permit its spy ship to dock at their ports for deep water exploration within the Indian Ocean.
Officials in New Delhi said the Indian Navy has closely been supervising the movements of the Chinese spy vessels in the IOR and the Xiang Yang Hong-03 is no exception. In terms of the total number of warships, China’s People’s Liberation Army – Navy is the largest navy in the world. It has been slowly increasing its presence in the IOR over the last two decades.
Speaking to reporters on December 23, 2022, the Indian Navy chief, Admiral Radhakrishnan Hari Kumar, said Chinese naval vessels are always present in the IOR. At that time, he also assured the nation that the Navy was keeping an eye on them so that they would not indulge in “inimical activities”.
The Navy typically keeps track of these vessels using its fleet, comprising P-81 long-range maritime patrol aircraft, drones, and warships.