Chinese research ship turned down by Sri Lanka to make Maldives resupply call

The Maldives has granted permission for a controversial Chinese vessel to make a resupply call, but it will not undertake any “research”, the Indian Ocean archipelago nation’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

China’s Xiang Yang Hong 3, which has been reportedly turned down port entry by Sri Lanka, is due to call at Male in early February, according to ship monitoring website MarineTraffic.

The vessel will “not be conducting any research while in the Maldivian waters”, the foreign ministry said, following media reports from neighbouring India accusing Beijing of using the ship for “surveillance”.

The Maldives said the vessel would stop only for “a port call, for rotation of personnel and replenishment”. There was no immediate comment from China.

India is suspicious of China’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean and its influence in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, which are strategically placed halfway along key east-west international shipping routes.

Relations between Male and New Delhi have plummeted since pro-China President Mohamed Muizzu won elections last year.

Muizzu has asked India to withdraw the 89 security personnel deployed to the Maldives to operate three reconnaissance aircraft by March 15.

However, Muizzu insists he does not want to upend ties with New Delhi by replacing Indian troops with Chinese forces.

Tensions with New Delhi flared this month after three of Muizzu’s junior ministers reportedly called Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “clown” and a “terrorist” in since-deleted social media posts.

Bollywood actors and some of India’s cricket greats responded with calls for compatriots to boycott their southern neighbour – a popular tourist destination – and instead book their next holidays closer to home.

Muizzu said the Maldives will also slash reliance on India for healthcare and medicine, adding more countries where citizens needing government-paid health treatment abroad can go.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has reportedly told China that the Xiang Yang Hong 3 will not be allowed access to its ports after two similar visits since 2022 raised objections from India, according to media reports on the island.

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The Chinese vessel, Shi Yan 6, was allowed port access in Colombo in October, and Sri Lankan authorities later granted it 48 hours to carry out marine research following diplomatic pressure from Beijing.

Another Chinese vessel, Yuan Wang 5, which specialises in spacecraft tracking and which New Delhi described as a spy ship, visited Sri Lanka in 2022.

A pair of Chinese submarines docked in Sri Lanka in 2014, raising protests from India. Since then, Sri Lanka has not allowed Chinese submarines to enter its ports.

scmp.com

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