Tensions arise as Chinese research ship arrives in Maldives post its strained relations with India

The presence of a Chinese research ship in the Maldives sparks diplomatic tensions with India, reflecting a broader regional power struggle.

Tensions rise in the Indian Ocean as the arrival of a Chinese research ship, Xiang Yang Hong 3, in the Maldives, sparks concerns among India, China, and the Maldives. Officially labelled as a routine port call for personnel rotation and replenishment, Delhi views the presence of the ship as a potential diplomatic snub, fearing it could be gathering data for future military use by China, particularly in submarine operations.

Chinese experts, like Zhou Bo, argue that the activities are legitimate scientific research and routine replenishment. Despite past objections from India regarding Chinese vessels near its waters, experts like Zhou emphasize that the Indian Ocean is not solely India’s domain.

This incident comes amid a broader regional power struggle, with China making strategic moves in the Indian Ocean. Notably, the Maldives, traditionally under India’s influence, has seen a shift in its leadership’s stance. President Mohamed Muizzu, who campaigned on an ‘India Out’ platform, aims to distance the Maldives from Indian influence. This includes requesting the withdrawal of Indian military personnel and discontinuing a hydrographic survey agreement with India.

The recent diplomatic tension has strained India-Maldives relations, with India agreeing to replace its military personnel based on the Maldives’ ultimatum. The Maldivian government’s alignment with China is evident in high-profile visits, infrastructure projects, and the refusal to renew agreements with India.

As the Maldives tilts toward China, concerns are not only raised in Delhi but also within the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), urging a course correction. The opposition party even contemplates impeachment proceedings against President Muizzu, emphasizing the potential dangers of antagonizing India.

For India, the challenge lies in countering China’s growing assertiveness. Experts like Shyam Saran highlight the strategic importance of the Maldives to India’s southern Oceanic flank, emphasizing the need for serious reservations about China’s expanding influence in the region.

Looking ahead, China’s greater strategic ambitions may lead to increased deployments of research ships and military vessels in the Indian Ocean, posing a challenge for India. The delicate balance of power in the region could escalate if India interferes with restocking supplies for Chinese ships in third-party countries. The situation underscores the complexities of the geopolitical landscape between the countries.