KOCHI: Kerala tourism is springing back to life, thanks to a steady stream of tourists from China. But, the trend has made the intelligence agencies wary of possible espionage activities, considering the sensitive establishments located in Kochi. Coastal security agencies, including the police, have been directed by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) to take measures to prevent Chinese spies posing as tourists, engaging in intelligence gathering activities in Kochi.
It was in February that an intelligence alert was given to all the security and enforcement agencies stationed in Kochi, including SBCID (state intelligence), Customs, CBI, NIA and local police about the intelligence gathering by Chinese spies posing as tourists in Kochi. Though police officials refused to comment on the matter, an officer with SBCID claimed the alert was given considering the fact that indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant is under construction in Kochi.
"There is no restriction for Chinese tourist coming in Kerala. They can move around like other foreign nationals. The alert is given only to monitor any possible intelligence-gathering activity. Already, a high-level security arrangement is maintained by national agencies at Shipyard where Vikrant is currently under work," he said.
In recent years, China is flexing muscles to increase its influence in the Indian Ocean. China and India are the two Asian countries having a significant presence in the Indian Ocean and countries which actively operate aircraft carriers. Other Asian countries with aircraft carriers are Japan and Thailand. However, Japan's aircraft carriers only operate helicopters and Thailand carrier has limited capabilities.
In 2017, as many as 7,113 tourists from China visited Kerala in which 4,328 came to Kochi. In the year 2018, the number of tourist from China increased by 35 per cent and their number rose to close to 10,000. Abraham George, member, National Tourism Advisory Council, said China is one of the largest tourism markets in the world. However, Kerala and India face certain issues that prevent Chinese travellers preferring India over other Asian countries.
"Connectivity is one major issue we face in Kerala. There is no direct flight from airports in Kerala to China. Another major issue we face is the lack of guides who know the Chinese language. In recent year, Sri Lanka tourism industry thrives of Chinese travellers," he said.
According to him, due to severed ties between India and China, the visa procedures for Chinese traveller to come to India is long. "Due to security issues, Chinese travellers are quizzed at immigration points in airports. Same happens to Indian travellers going to China. If all these barriers are opened, Kerala tourism can greatly benefit from China tourists footfall," he said.