BEIJING: A Chinese research vessel is heading to Maldives, Reuters reported, citing an Indian military official and an independent researcher. The timing coincides with Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu’s recent state visit to China, aimed at strengthening ties. This development raises concerns in New Delhi, as India has previously viewed the presence of such vessels near its shores, including in Sri Lanka in 2022, as problematic. These vessels are not military ships officially. However, it will spark concerns for India and others about the military use of their research.
Relations between India and the Maldives have strained since President Muizzu took office in November, shifting the government’s focus towards China and requesting the withdrawal of nearly 80 Indian troops stationed in the Maldives, according to Reuters report. The Chinese vessel is heading to Male, according to post shared by open source intelligence researcher Damien Symon on social media platform X. Damien Symon said Xiang Yang Hong 03 “is entering the Indian Ocean Region, displaying its destination as Male, the vessel is expected to run an ocean survey operation in the Indian Ocean region raising concern in #India”.
An Indian military official has confirmed Symon’s finding and said they are monitoring its movement, Reuters reported. Previously, India has flagged similar visits by other Chinese research vessels with its neighbour Sri Lanka, which has not permitted China to dock such vessels on its ports since 2022. This comes as India and the Maldives on January 14 “agreed to fast-track the withdrawal of Indian military personnel” from the island nation, according to the Maldives’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
On January 14, India and Maldives held a core group meeting. During the meeting, both sides deliberated on finding a “mutually workable solution” to ensure the “continued operation” of Indian aviation platforms providing humanitarian and Medvec services, the Ministry of External Affairs said. The MEA announced that the next meeting will be held in the national capital. During the core group meeting, both nations delved “on several aspects of the bilateral relationship,” MEA spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said during a weekly briefing on January 18 while sharing insights on the deliberations that took place in the meeting.
“We mentioned that both sides held discussions on finding a mutually workable solution to enable continued operation of Indian aviation platforms that provide humanitarian and Medvec services to the people of the Maldives,” he also said. “The next meeting is to be held in India to take discussions forward. So that is where the situation as far as the Maldives is concerned,” Jaiswal added.
When asked if India received a formal request from Maldives to withdraw the Indian military, Jaiswal said, “Whatever’s discussed was put out in the press release. That is where the situation actually stands. It is an ongoing process. Both sides held discussions on finding mutually workable solutions…This is an ongoing discussion, so things will go forward or things will be discussed in the next meeting of the core group subsequently soon.”
Recently, Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu and First Lady Sajidha Mohamed travelled to China for a state visit. Upon arrival at Velana International Airport, Mohamed Muizzu announced that agreements to assist the Maldives in expanding agricultural growth to cater to food security were signed with the Chinese government. The agreements were signed following the official talks between China and Maldives during Muizzu’s state visit to China. The two nations exchanged 20 key agreements at the signing ceremony.
Speaking on the agreements signed between the two nations, Muizzu stated that deliberations were conducted to initiate a specific agricultural scheme at Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF), the Maldives President’s Office said in a press release. He stressed that the envisioned project will guarantee the cultivation of the most frequently used agricultural commodities, sufficient for a minimum population of 200,000 people.