Beijing has denied Indian media reports alleging that a marine observatory backed by Chinese capital and technologies in Maldives had a covert military agenda, jeering that such hysteria stemmed from “jealousy of Chinese friendship with South Asian countries.”
“China’s marine cooperation with the Maldives carries no military purpose, none whatsoever,” said the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
The Times of India reported on Monday that the maritime observation facility could be a disguised submarine base for the Chinese navy.
The station in Makunudhoo, in the north of the Maldivian archipelago and separated by a waterway off the Indian state of Kerala on the Malabar Coast, gives China a vantage point on a vital Indian Ocean shipping route, according to The Times.
“It will be uncomfortably close to Indian waters and test Maldives’ ties” with New Delhi, said the report.
“Any cooperation China conducted with South Asian countries is interpreted by the Indian side as besieging India, as India believes South Asia is its back yard,” Hu Zhiyong, a research fellow at the Institute of International Relations of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Beijing-based nationalist tabloid Global Times.
Indian media have increasingly hyped China’s cooperation with Maldives, especially this year, as a state of emergency was extended this month amid turmoil triggered by the arrest of a former president as well as Supreme Court judges.
Hordes of Chinese tourists have descended upon this scenic Indian Ocean island nation in recent years.
India wanted to incite Maldivian public opinion against China, Global Times quoted another observer as saying.
China and Maldives signed a protocol on the construction of a joint ocean observation station for climate research and preservation of marine ecology when the current president, Abdulla Yameen, visited China in December.
From 2015 to 2017, China and Maldives conducted two phases of joint marine investigation in waters surrounding the islands, which provided data about Indian Ocean climate change and monsoons.
Chinese papers back then said the move was among Beijing’s ocean and infrastructure initiatives to allay misgivings about the impact from the throngs of Chinese sightseers on Maldives’ fragile ecosystem. More than 300,000 tourists from China flocked to the country last year, and it is the largest source of Maldives’ foreign visitors.
Most of the 300-square-kilometer archipelago, hailed as a “string of pearls” in the Indian Ocean, is under threat of being submerged because of global warming.
Nikkei reported earlier that Beijing could mount a “takeover” of Maldives when the tiny island nation is overstretched by servicing some US$1.5 billion of maturing Chinese loans.
Beijing has reportedly gained control of 16 islands and atolls there and splurged capital on infrastructure projects that could easily be converted for military use.