Maldives permits Chinese vessel to dock amid spat with India, says welcome 'vessels of friendly countries'
MALE: A Chinese ship, equipped to carry research and surveys, will be docking at a Maldivian port after being permitted by the Male government to make a port call for replenishment.
The permission to allow the Chinese ship comes amid strains in ties between India and Maldives after its new President Mohamed Muizzu came to power and made Beijing as his first port of call early this month after assuming office.
Traditionally, New Delhi has been the first port of call for a Maldivian President.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Maldivian Foreign Ministry said a diplomatic request was made by the Chinese government for the necessary clearances to make a port call, for rotation of personnel and replenishment.
The statement, however, said the Chinese Research Vessel Xiang Yang Hong 3, will "not be conducting any research while in the Maldivian waters."
Further, the statement said Maldives has always been a welcoming destination for "vessels of friendly countries," and continues to host both civilian and military vessels making port calls for peaceful purposes.
"Such port calls not only enhance bilateral ties between the Maldives and its partner countries, but also demonstrate the centuries-old tradition of the Maldivian people welcoming vessels from friendly countries," it said.
According to Marine Traffic, a private website keeping a watch on movement of ships, the eight-year-old Chinese ship is likely to dock at a Male port on February 8.
An American think-tank has alleged that a vast fleet of China's "scientific research" ships is collecting data from the oceans, including in the Indian Ocean, for military purposes, especially for submarine operations, a charge denied by Beijing which said the Chinese vessels operations are in line with the UN Convention on Law of the Seas.
On January 5, Sri Lanka, while denying entry to the Chinese ship, had said it has declared a moratorium on foreign research ships entering its waters for a year amid concerns from India over Chinese research vessels docking in its neighbourhood.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Niluka Kadurugamuwa had said the moratorium relates to all countries and will allow local researchers to build capacity on a par with their foreign counterparts in joint research.
The Maldives' proximity to India, barely 70 nautical miles from the island of Minicoy in Lakshadweep and 300 nautical miles from the mainland's western coast, and its location at the hub of commercial sea lanes running through the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) gives it significant strategic importance.
The Maldives is India's key maritime neighbour in the IOR and occupies a special place in its initiatives like SAGAR' (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the Neighbourhood First Policy' of the Narendra Modi government.
According to officials in New Delhi in the know of the developments in the island nation, the Maldivian president has signed undisclosed agreements with Turkey and China and possibly to help Beijing set up a base at an Island HDh Makunudhoo.
Though the President's office has denied having signed any such agreement, the opposition leaders in Maldives have been making allegations to this effect while demanding Muizzu to share details of the bilaterals signed with China.
The officials in New Delhi said Male was bringing back so-called reformed terrorists of ISIS from Syria without any rehabilitation plan in effect, thereby disturbing the security of the region.
The present Maldives government's 'shun-India' policy, according to the officials, goes beyond norms of humanity and highlighted recent incidents in which one person, lost in the sea, could not be traced because the Male authorities refused to carry out search operations despite requests from Indian authorities.
As recently as on January 20, a child from Gdh Thinadhoo died because they refused to evacuate him on a Donier plane sent from India.