Chinese warships return to South China Sea, as Indian Navy continues heavy deployment around Maldives - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 20 February 2018

Chinese warships return to South China Sea, as Indian Navy continues heavy deployment around Maldives

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Feb 18

A Chinese warship flotilla that had entered the Indian Ocean, reportedly heading for the Maldives Islands, has turned around and returned to the South China Sea, say highly credible Indian Navy sources.

On Tuesday, Reuters quoted Chinese website to report that eleven Chinese warships had entered the Indian Ocean “amid a constitutional crisis in the tiny tropical island chain of the Maldives now under a state of emergency”, clearly suggesting gunboat diplomacy at work.

However, Indian Navy sources say that, while a Chinese flotilla, including a destroyer and a frigate, had indeed crossed into the Indian Ocean through the Sunda Strait, it turned around and returned to the South China Sea through the Lombok Strait.

The four straits of Malacca, Sunda, Lombok and Ombai Wetar are used by China’s People’s Liberation Army (Navy), or PLA(N), to cross between their bases in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.

That leaves the PLA(N) with three warships in the Gulf of Aden, a routine deployment for anti-piracy escort duties. Besides this “28th Anti-Piracy Escort Force” (APEF), as the three-vessel task force is called, three PLA(N) warships of the 27th APEF are doing port visits in Africa.

The Indian Navy, meanwhile, continues maintaining a heavy presence of battle-ready warships in the Arabian Sea, including many close to the Maldives.

According to a navy announcement last Wednesday, “A tri-service maritime exercise, code named ‘Paschim Lehar’, commenced on the Western seaboard on 12 Feb[ruary 20]18. This exercise includes participation of a large number of ships, submarines and aircraft from the Western Naval Command of the Indian Navy.”

The announcement also revealed the presence of “Eastern Naval Command, Indian Army, Indian Air Force and the Indian Coast Guard [units that are] also participating to build inter-operability.”

In all, India has over 40 ships and submarines deployed in Exercise Paschim Lehar, and a similar number of combat aircraft.

If further signalling were needed of the ready availability of Indian military power, the navy also announced that army amphibious forces – specialist units used to assault and capture island targets – were also participating in the on-going exercise.

Contacted for comments, an Indian Navy spokesperson stated: “This is a routine training exercise that is taking place. It will last for a month.”

In simple strategic terms, India’s proximity to the Maldives lets it project far greater force around the archipelago than the PLA(N), for significantly longer durations.

The on-going constitutional crisis in the Maldives is a contest for influence between the pro-China President Abdulla Yameen, and his pro-India predecessor, Mohamed Nasheed, who is currently in exile in Sri Lanka.

New Delhi is concerned that the Maldives is gravitating into Beijing’s orbit, with Yameen signing up for the Belt and Road Initiative. There is worry that China could eventually build a naval base here.

Yameen has allowed Beijing to invest in a major port project in the Maldives. That prompted Nasheed to state that China was “buying up the Maldives”.

Yameen has responded with a political crackdown. After the Supreme Court ordered the release of jailed opposition members earlier this month, Yameen declared a 10-day state of emergency on February 5.

On Monday, Yameen sought parliamentary approval to extend the emergency for 30 days. However, in a press release on Tuesday, the Ministry of External Affairs tweeted: “It is our expectation that the Government of Maldives will not be seeking the extension of the State of Emergency and resume the political process with immediate effect.” 


  1. Interesting to notice 🇮🇳 pro-active actions. Keeping powder dry is important at such junctures.
    Wonder why not covered adequately by main stream media?
    Appreciate 😊

  2. With US & UK bases so close by, there will be other interests . Best let the issue be decided through UN.

  3. Indian journalists seem to operate in their own closed ‘patriotic’ loop, this leads to misunderstandings by the general populace on the real situation in the Maldives. Rather like Fox News reporting US foreign policy.

    I have spent short holiday breaks in the Maldives with family, the last being about a year ago and as a Indian who speaks to ‘the Maldivian on the ground’ I can comment.

    India has nothing to offer the Maldives could the blog owner or other commentators let me know why relations with India rather than China would benefit the ordinary Maldivian citizen.

    Maldivians tell me that India has not supported democracy in the Maldives. They think it’s strange that Indian newspapers keep quiet about the fact that India supported the authoritarian rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a half-brother of the current president, and enabled him to remain in power for three decades. Yes, India briefly supported the last President Mohmmad Nasheed who was democratic, but the fact remains for most part of Maldivian history India has supported a dictatorship.

    Do you know that cultural links with India are now considered old hat. The largest number of tourists last year came to these Islands from China not Europe. The ordinary Maldivian is a devout Muslim. The rabidly anti Muslim attitudes of the current Indian government has been noted by the Maldivian middle class. Most of The expatriate population of workers are not from India but Bangladesh.

    The Chinese on the other hand have more to offer like the Free Trade Agreement with China.
    Maldives has become the second South Asian country after Pakistan to sign this.
    Maldives is now part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese and the Maldivian government have signed future agreements including health, tourism, technology, and climate change. China is also building huge infrastructure here. Major Indian projects have been cancelled and replaced by new contracts with China.

    Beside China has extended huge loans and grants to the Maldives, people there talk of the vision of development being offered by China, this cannot be matched by India.

    It is not China playing the warship diplomacy but India. The naval exercises by India in the vicinity of the Maldives is perceived as belligerent and arm twisting by India on these Islands

    Perhaps India (and Indian journalists ) should do some soul searching and ask themselves why it’s neighbours are turning hostile.


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