India keeps close watch as Chinese research vessel heads to Maldives

India is keeping a close watch on the movement of a Chinese survey and research vessel, equipped with advanced surveillance equipment, which is scheduled to reach the Maldives next week.

The vessel, Xiang Yang Hong 03, is currently in the SE Asian waters.

Indian Navy is closely tracking and monitoring the activities and movement of the vessel, including any attempt to gather data of the resources in the region, ET has learnt.

The Navy usually keeps track of such Chinese vessels using its fleet of P-8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft and warships as well as two unarmed MQ-9B Sea Guardian drones leased from the US for top-notch ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) missions in the IOR.

The survey and research vessel is expected to reach the Maldives by around the first week of February. 

Noteworthy, the Chinese vessel is headed towards the Maldives after Sri Lanka refused permission for the ship to dock at one of its ports.

Worth mentioning that India has repeatedly conveyed to Sri Lanka its strong objections about such “dual-use” Chinese ships being allowed to dock at its ports and map oceanographic and other data useful for navigation and submarine operations in the IOR.

Chinese survey vessel Shi Yan-6 had docked at Colombo last Oct despite concerns raised by India.

Earlier, in Aug, Chinese warship Hai Yang 24 Hao, with a crew of around 140, had also visited the port.

The docking of Chinese research and space-tracking vessel Yuan Wang-5 at Hambantota, in fact, had led to a major diplomatic spat between India and Sri Lanka in Aug 2022.

Such Chinese vessels, packed with large antennae, advanced sensors and electronic equipment, undertake snooping, monitor satellite launches and track trajectories of ballistic missiles test-fired by India in the IOR.

With Muizzu choosing to first visit China instead of India earlier this month, and inking a whole host of bilateral agreements in Beijing to strengthen their bilateral strategic partnership, India will now have to tackle the Maldives on this front as well.

China, with the world’s largest Navy with over 360 warships and submarines, now maintains “a sustained presence” in the IOR with six to eight warships deployed at any given time, apart from research or spy vessels and many fishing vessels.