Chinese research vessel heading towards Maldives raises concerns in India

A Chinese research vessel, Xiang Yang Hong 03, heading to the Maldives for an ocean survey raises concerns in India over potential military activities.

A Chinese research vessel is reportedly en route to the Maldives, signalling a deepening of ties between the island nation and Beijing under the leadership of newly-elected President Mohamed Muizzu. The vessel, identified as Xiang Yang Hong 03, is expected to conduct an ocean survey operation in the Indian Ocean Region, raising concerns in New Delhi.

This development is likely to heighten apprehensions in India, given past instances of Chinese research vessels operating in proximity to its shores, notably in Sri Lanka in 2022. While these vessels are officially designated for research purposes, there has been persistent worry about their potential dual-use nature, with concerns over the collection of information that could have military applications.

The strained relations between India and the Maldives have been exacerbated since President Muizzu assumed office in November, championing an ‘India Out’ campaign. Both India and China are actively vying for influence in the strategically located Indian Ocean nation. The Maldivian government’s pivot towards China has led to a request for the withdrawal of nearly 80 Indian troops stationed there, further complicating the diplomatic landscape.

Open-source intelligence researcher Damien Symon revealed on social media that the Chinese research vessel is heading towards Male, the capital of the Maldives. Symon’s findings were subsequently confirmed by an Indian military official, who stated that they were closely monitoring the vessel’s movements. Despite attempts to seek comments from relevant authorities, the Maldivian president’s office, India’s foreign ministry, and China’s defence ministry are yet to respond.

India has previously expressed concern about similar visits by Chinese research vessels to Sri Lanka, leading the latter to deny permission for docking since 2022. In 2019, India took decisive action by expelling another Chinese research vessel from its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for entering without permission.

Chinese research vessels are often deemed “dual-use,” implying that the information gathered during research activities can serve both civilian and military purposes, including the potential deployment of submarines. Both Indian military and security officials, speaking anonymously, highlighted the sensitivity of the issue.

This development follows recent assertions by state-affiliated Chinese media, cautioning against viewing its maritime research in the Indian Ocean Region as a threat. Meanwhile, Vietnam and Indonesia have previously reported similar incidents of Chinese research vessels entering their respective EEZs, further underscoring regional concerns about China’s maritime activities.