NEW DELHI: A flotilla of Chinese warships sailed through the South China Sea, apparently headed for the Indian Ocean amid turmoil in the Maldives, but turned east and headed back through the Strait of Lombok, sources in the Indian security establishment have said.
The flotilla entered the Indian Ocean through the Strait of Sunda but returned around the middle of this month. The straits connect the South China sea to the Indian Ocean.
The naval manouevres in the Indian Ocean are playing out even as the Indian Navy is engaged in back-to-back exercises, first on the east coast and now on the west coast. Around 40 Indian warships are engaged in exercise ‘Pashchim Lehar’ in the Arabian Sea. The Indian Government, in an official statement on Tuesday, urged President Yameen to roll back the state of emergency in the archipelago.
Within the Indian establishment there is a belief that Yameen is being extraordinarily friendly with the Chinese at the cost of traditional relations with India.
Defence sources said Chinese warships transit the Indian Ocean regularly but to claim that a flotilla of 11 led by a destroyer was on the way was “absurd”. The defence sources were reacting to reports from China and Australia that said 11 Peoples’Army Navy (PLAN) warships were headed to the eastern Indian Ocean.
“We have a robust maritime domain awareness system. We are aware of movements,” a defence source said. There are 11 Chinese warships in separate flotillas in and around the Indian Ocean.
The Chinese currently have three warships in the Red Sea as part of their 28th anti-piracy escort force (APEC). The 27th APEC, also comprising three warships, exited the Red Sea via the Suez Canal and was said to be off the west coast of South Africa.
The Indian Navy currently has eight ships near “chokepoints” in the Indian Ocean Region between the Straits of Hormuz and the Straits of Malacca since a decision was taken last year to go on mission-based deployments at all times. One of the ships patrols the Strait of Malacca.
Indian defence establishment sources said a precise picture of military deployments in the Indian Ocean was available through a network of surveillance systems, some of which are in the littorals.