India - Maldives: Chinese Research Vessel in Maldives


India - Maldives: Chinese Research Vessel in Maldives

Chinese research vessel Xiang Yang Hong 03 will not be carrying out research in Maldivian waters, but will arrive for a port call, the Government of Maldives has said.

Reports of the Chinese vessel heading to the Maldives  have drawn considerable attention in India, especially in the wake of Sri Lanka announcing a one-year moratorium on foreign research vessels calling at the island’s ports, after India voiced concern over visits by a Chinese vessel.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maldives said their country “has always been a welcoming destination for vessels of friendly countries” and continues to host both civilian and military vessels making port calls for peaceful purposes. “Such port calls not only enhance bilateral ties between the Maldives and its partner countries, but also demonstrate the centuries old tradition of the Maldivian people welcoming vessels from friendly countries,” it said, adding that authorities would “uphold” international best practices and relevant international maritime law.

For India, the visit of the Chinese vessel to the Maldives is the latest source of tension. Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu, who was elected to office in September 2023, has demanded that Indian troops be withdrawn from the Maldives, while also terminating a joint hydrographic survey exercise with India. During his recent state visit to China, Muizzu also pledged to elevate strategic ties with India’s neighbour.


Steady rise in deployment of Chinese research vessels in the IOR

There has been steady rise in the deployment of Chinese research vessels in the IOR and the general area of deployment has been observed around the Ninety Degree East Ridge and Southwest Indian Ridge. The research or survey vessels have powerful equipment for snooping and gathering a range of data.

Amid  pressure from New Delhi, Colombo in December 2023 announced a year-long moratorium on foreign research vessels visiting Sri Lankan waters.  This was after India and the U.S., over the last couple of years, voiced concern with Sri Lankan authorities over the visits of Chinese vessels to the island’s ports for research purposes.

Reports of the Chinese vessel’s arrival in Maldives coincide with the visit of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) Vice-Minister of the International Department to the Maldives Sun Hainan.


Strength of the Chinese navy

Incidentally, in April 2023, an Indian Navy representative informed the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence that in just over a decade, China has grown from having 250 to more than 350 navy ships becoming the largest navy in the world. Along with their numbers, their operations have also expanded and at any point of time, five to nine ships are operating in the IOR in addition to their research vessels, which can influence our security, the representative informed.

While research activities are allowed in international waters as per international regulations, the data generated have dual nature including military and many times the motive of Chinese vessels had seemed doubtful, on occasion coinciding with the test firing of long range missiles by India.

All Neighbours Article