A Chinese research vessel, designed for surveys and research, has received permission from the Maldivian government to make a port call at a Maldivian port for replenishment purposes. This decision comes at a time when there are strains in the relationship between India and the Maldives, following the new President Mohamed Muizzu's decision to make Beijing his first port of call after assuming office.
In a departure from tradition, where New Delhi has historically been the first port of call for a Maldivian President, the Maldivian Foreign Ministry stated that the Chinese Research Vessel Xiang Yang Hong 3 will not be conducting any research while in Maldivian waters. The permission for the port call was granted in response to a diplomatic request from the Chinese government, aimed at obtaining clearances for rotation of personnel and replenishment.
The Maldivian Foreign Ministry emphasized that the country has always been open to vessels from friendly nations, both civilian and military, making port calls for peaceful purposes. Such visits are seen as contributing to enhancing bilateral ties and upholding the tradition of welcoming vessels from friendly countries.
According to Marine Traffic, a website tracking ship movements, the eight-year-old Chinese ship is expected to dock at a port in Male on February 8. The development comes in the wake of allegations by an American think-tank claiming that China's "scientific research" ships, including those in the Indian Ocean, are collecting data for military purposes, particularly submarine operations. Beijing has denied these allegations, stating that its vessels operate in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas.
Earlier, on January 5, Sri Lanka had denied entry to a Chinese research ship, declaring a one-year moratorium on foreign research ships entering its waters. This move raised concerns from India over Chinese research vessels in the region.
The strategic significance of the Maldives, located just 70 nautical miles from the Indian island of Minicoy and 300 nautical miles from the mainland's western coast, is underscored by its proximity to India and its position at the hub of commercial sea lanes in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The Maldives holds a crucial role in India's maritime initiatives, such as 'SAGAR' (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the 'Neighbourhood First Policy.'
Reports suggest that the Maldivian president has signed undisclosed agreements with Turkey and China, possibly including the establishment of a Chinese base on H.Dh Makunudhoo Island. While the President's office denies such agreements, opposition leaders in the Maldives allege their existence and demand transparency.
Officials in New Delhi express concerns over the Maldivian government's perceived 'shun-India' policy, citing incidents where search operations for a person lost at sea were refused, impacting regional security. Additionally, they highlight instances like the recent death of a child from Gdh Thinadhoo on January 20, attributed to the refusal to evacuate him on an aircraft sent from India.
(With Agency Inputs)