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After Sri Lankan snub, Chinese spy ship to dock in Maldives by January end

The Maldives has allowed the Chinese ocean research vessel 'Xiang Yang Hong 03,' widely considered a spy ship, to dock in Male at the end of the month. The ship, previously denied entry into Sri Lanka, is expected to conduct ocean surveys in the Indian Ocean Region, raising concerns in India

After Sri Lankan snub, Chinese spy ship to dock in Maldives by January end
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First Published Jan 23, 2024, 9:03 AM IST

Weeks after Sri Lanka banned the entry of any 'spy ship' in its waters, the Maldives has permitted the Chinese ocean research vessel 'Xiang Yang Hong 03' to dock in Male by the end of this month. The ship is widely considered a spy ship. The ship would have been docking at Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, had the island nation granted permission to the Chinese vessel. The Sri Lankan government has imposed a year-long moratorium on entry of spy ships after New Delhi raised objections and security concerns in December last year. 

Geo-intelligence expert Damien Symon in a series of posts on X said: "XIANG YANG HONG 03, a Chinese ocean research vessel is entering the Indian Ocean Region, displaying its destination as Male, the vessel is expected to run an ocean survey operation in the Indian Ocean Region raising concern in India." 

"XIANG YANG HONG 03 the Chinese ocean research vessel heading to Male, Maldives is no stranger to the region, having conducted ocean surveys in 2019 and 2020, the vessel has been observed in the Indian Ocean Region, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea raising fresh concerns in India,” Damien Symon said.

"The vessel is expected to arrive in Male on January 30," he said.

Chinese spy ship ‘Xiang Yang Hong 03’

The Chinese vessel is a 4600-ton and fitted with advanced survey and surveillance equipment. The ship has been carrying out “scientific exploration” in the Indian Ocean Region under the pretext of mapping the seabed and studying the marine environment. 

Built in 2016, the ship has a carrying capacity of 1676 tons Deadweight tonnage (DWT) with current draught is reported to be 6 meters. Her length overall (LOA) is 99.8 meters and her width is 17.8 meters. China has increased the presence of its spy ships in the past few years.

Past Chinese Spy Ship Activity

In 2023, China sent one of its modern space-tracking ships, Yuan Wang to Sri Lankan waters at Hambantota. The vessel was used to monitor satellite, rocket, and intercontinental ballistic missile launches. In December 2022, the survey vessel, Yuan Wang-5 entered the Indian Ocean Region through Sunda Strait off Indonesia. She had come just ahead of a scheduled missile test by India. In August 2019, a Chinese survey vessel ‘Shi Yan 1’ came 460 km east of the Indian island Port Blair in the Bay of Bengal. She was moved out by the Indian Navy’s warship. In December 2019, Xiang Yang Hong 06 was stationed at least 12 underwater gliders in the Indian Ocean.

Why is the Spy Ship Headed for Maldives

The recent development is being seen as yet another signal of Mohamed Muizzu's government in the Maldives tilting towards Beijing. Male has been traditionally close to India. Muizzu came to power in October 2023, defeating the pro-India President Ibrahim Solih, on an anti-India plank and pro-China campaign. 

After assuming the charge, he asked India to withdraw its military personnel from Maldives and also cancelled a hydrography pact between the Indian Navy and the Maldives National Defence Force. Muizzu preferred visiting China instead of India, breaking the tradition of previous Maldivian Presidents who always chose India for their maiden visits.

In China, he also inked a number of pacts to further enhance their relations.

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