China marine observatory adds to Maldives-India tensions

A Joint Ocean Observation Station which China is looking to establish in the Maldives has sparked fresh security concerns from neighbours India.

According to Indian media reports, the station could prove another security challenge for the Indian government as the observatory will also have a military application with provision even for a submarine base.

The observatory location in Makunudhoo island, the westernmost atoll in the north (not far from India), will allow the Chinese a vantage point of an important Indian Ocean shipping route through which many merchant and other ships pass, said political sources in Male. It will be uncomfortably close to Indian waters and test red lines with regard to ties with Maldives.

Indian officials confirmed that an official agreement titled Protocol on Establishment of Joint Ocean Observation Station between China and the Maldives was finalised last year around the time the countries also controversially signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). They, however, said they would have to check the specifics of the agreement before offering a comment.

Chinese government however, through the Global Times newspaper dismissed the concerns insisting that China's marine cooperation with the Maldives carries no military purpose and "the Indian media's exaggerated reports stem from jealousy of Chinese cooperation with South Asian countries."

Any cooperation China conducted with South Asian countries is interpreted by the Indian side as besieging India, as India believes South Asia is its backyard," Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

The Indian media has increasingly hyped China's cooperation with the Maldives this year due to the chaotic political situation, Zhao Gancheng, director of the Center for Asia-Pacific Studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, told the Global Times. India wanted to incite Maldives' public opinion against China, he said.

Indian media reflected Indian hegemonism and irresponsible remarks on China's cooperation with the Maldives could harm regional stability, Zhao said.