China has sent a research vessel, the Xiang Yang Hong 03, to visit the Maldives, a move that could raise concerns in India, the Maldives’ traditional ally. The visit comes amid strained relations between the two countries after the Maldives government under President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih signed deals with China.
Maldives Grants Clearance Despite Indian Concerns
The Maldives granted diplomatic clearance to the Xiang Yang Hong 03 on January 20th to visit Male from January 23rd to 29th, according to a statement from the Maldives Foreign Ministry. The vessel is described as a research and survey vessel but India believes it could be used for surveillance purposes near key maritime routes.
India had expressed concern about the visit and requested the vessel not be allowed to conduct research in the Maldives’ exclusive economic zone. The Maldives confirmed the ship would not conduct research per India’s request. However, the visit itself is seen as a snub to India.
According to reports, the Indian Navy will closely monitor the route and activities of the vessel as it transits through the Indian Ocean.
Opposition Parties Criticize Government’s Stance
The Maldives opposition coalition expressed concern about the government’s “anti-India actions” like allowing the visit of the Chinese research vessel. Opposition leaders described India as the Maldives’ “most long-standing ally” and said the government policies seem aimed at hurting ties.
The opposition criticized the Solih government for deals with China that would increase the Maldives’ debt. They called on the government to work with India, which has provided financial aid to the Maldives many times.
This adds to the domestic troubles facing President Solih, who is increasingly aligned with China. The opposition could make India vs China ties an election issue that costs Solih’s party in the upcoming elections.
India-Maldives Ties Worsen Under Solih
Relations between India and the Maldives have deteriorated under Solih’s administration. India is concerned about Maldives signing infrastructure deals with China under its Belt and Road Initiative.
|Solih elected, seen as pro-India
|Signs FTA with China
|Approves BRI projects
|Tourism dispute with India
|Allows Chinese research vessel
The latest issue compounds growing strategic competition between India and China, who both seek greater influence over the Indian Ocean islands. As a small state between giants, the Maldives has to balance ties with India and China.
But experts say India remains critical to Maldives’ security and Solih cannot afford to antagonize New Delhi too much ahead of elections.
While the opposition pressurizes Solih ahead of elections next year, India will closely track the Chinese research vessel’s activities near the Andaman islands. India could lodge a protest if the vessel enters waters claimed by India.
Strategic competition between China and India in the Indian Ocean region is expected to intensify. Smaller countries like Maldives are forced to pick sides between the two giants vying for regional influence.
For now, New Delhi will likely wait and watch how much more Solih pivots toward China. But if Maldives grants further concessions to Beijing, India will push back more forcefully to protect its security interests in its strategic backyard.
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