India tracking Chinese research vessel heading for Maldives
New Delhi is tracking a Chinese research vessel that has entered the Indian Ocean region and is heading for the Maldives to reportedly run a survey operation, Indian media reported on Monday, citing Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) observers and maritime tracking portals.
The vessel – Xiang Yang Hong 03 – was expected to dock in Sri Lanka but changed course after Colombo announced a year-long moratorium on foreign research vessels in December last year amid repeated requests from India and the US.
A report in the Economic Times describing the Chinese ship as a “spy vessel” said India is tracking its activities, including any attempts to gather data on resources in the region. The ship is expected to reach the Maldives next week, according to reports. Sources in the Indian military told the News18 network that the Navy is aware of the vessel’s presence and has been monitoring its movement.
The development comes amid a diplomatic row between New Delhi and Male, with the latter asking the Indian government to withdraw its troops from the archipelago by March 15, and less than two weeks after Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu, who has been cultivating closer ties with China, visited Beijing.
During the visit, Muizzu held talks with President Xi Jinping. The countries signed 20 bilateral agreements, which included a pledge by Beijing to extend funding for infrastructure in the Indian Ocean archipelago. The countries also vowed to elevate ties to ‘comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership’.
China first forayed into the Indian Ocean in 2008 to conduct anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, and has maintained a presence in the region ever since. However, New Delhi has expressed concerns recently over China's rapidly expanding presence in the Indian Ocean region.
Speaking in New York in September last year, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said that in the past 20-25 years, “there has been a steady increase in the Chinese naval presence and activity in the Indian Ocean” and that India has been watching these developments “very carefully.”
India has viewed the presence of Chinese research vessels near its shores, including in Sri Lanka in 2022, as problematic. A representative of the Indian Navy cautioned the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defense last year that at any point in time, five to nine Chinese ships are operating in the Indian Ocean region, in addition to their research vessels, “which can influence our security,” The Hindu reported.