Maldives rules out spying in its waters by Chinese ship
The Maldives clarified on Tuesday that a Chinese vessel heading for its chief city and capital, Male, will not be conducting research in its waters after India raised concerns over the ship possibly gathering sensitive data. In a statement, the Maldivian government said Beijing had lodged a “diplomatic request” to make a port call “for the rotation of personnel and replenishment.”
The vessel was initially supposed to dock in Sri Lanka, but changed course after Colombo announced a year-long moratorium on foreign research vessels in December, following repeated requests to do so by India and the US. The statement came in the wake of reports in Indian media suggesting the ship could be used to spy on the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
“The Maldives 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,” Male clarified. “[Such calls] demonstrate the centuries-old tradition of the Maldivian people welcoming vessels from friendly countries.”
Notably, access to the government website where the statement is posted was blocked for Indian users on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Chinese ship – Xiang Yang Hong 03 – was first spotted by Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) observers and maritime tracking portals, triggering waves of speculation in the media. Officials who were contacted seemed to suggest that New Delhi was keeping a close watch on the vessel, which is expected to dock in the Maldives within the next week or so.
Tensions are ongoing between India and the Maldives regarding the presence of Indian troops in the island nation. Male set a deadline of March 15 for around 88 Indian soldiers to leave the islands. The two sides are currently engaged in talks to iron out their differences, the Indian Foreign Ministry said last week. At the same time, the Maldives is deepening its ties with Beijing.
Earlier this month, during Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu’s state visit to China, the countries signed 20 bilateral agreements. Beijing also vowed to extend funding for infrastructure in the Indian Ocean archipelago. New Delhi sees the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean as problematic. Speaking at an event in New York last year, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said India was watching developments “very carefully.”