In a surprising turn of events, the Chinese marine research vessel, Xiang Yang Hong 03, is set to dock in the Maldives next week, sparking concerns about the country’s diplomatic ties. The visit comes amid rising tensions in the Indian Ocean region, as questions arise regarding the Maldives’ shifting alliances.
The Xiang Yang Hong 03, officially engaged in distant water and deep-sea surveys for China’s Pilot Ocean Laboratory, has been at the center of a regional controversy. While billed as a scientific endeavor, analysts suggest that China might be blurring the lines between scientific and military research.
Tracking services reveal that the vessel recently entered the Indian Ocean, having transited the Sunda Strait in Indonesia. Initially planning a stop in Sri Lanka, reports emerged that Sri Lanka imposed a one-year moratorium on Chinese research vessels, under pressure from the United States and India.
The Maldives’ President, Dr. Mohamed Muizzu, recently concluded a diplomatic visit to China, announcing broad agreements. On January 23, the Chinese government sought clearances for the Xiang Yang Hong 03’s port call in the Maldives, raising eyebrows about the nature of the growing relationship between the two nations.
The vessel boasts capabilities for ocean salinity studies, underwater mineral exploration, environmental research, and mapping surveys. This development follows the Maldives’ decision to terminate a hydrography agreement with India, further fueling speculation about a shift in diplomatic allegiances.
The Maldivian government, in an official statement, reassured that the clearances were sought for personnel rotation and replenishment, with no research activities planned in Maldivian waters. Despite the controversy, the government emphasized its tradition of welcoming vessels from friendly nations.
The Xiang Yang Hong 03 is expected to arrive in the capital, Malé, on January 30, with the duration of its stay remaining uncertain. As diplomatic tensions escalate, the international community watches closely to understand the implications of this unexpected port call in the strategically significant Indian Ocean.