New Delhi, Feb 26: China is planning to build a Joint Ocean Observation Station in the Maldives, a move which has triggered fresh alarm bells for India. The plan sparked fresh security concerns for India as the observatory, according to the Maldivian opposition leaders, will also have a military application with provision even for a submarine base. Also Read - 'Frank, in-Depth Exchange of Views': MEA on NSA Doval's Talks With Chinese Foreign Minister
With the observatory in Makunudhoo, the westernmost atoll in the north (not far from India), China will have a vantage point as many merchant and other ships will pass through the Indian Ocean shipping route, reported Times of India quoting political sources in Male. The supposed observatory will be uncomfortably close to Indian waters. Also Read - China Not Ready to Stir From New Claim Over 'Disputed' Territory in Bhutan
An official agreement titled Protocol on Establishment of Joint Ocean Observation Station between China and the Maldives has been finalised last year. The two countries also controversially signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). India needs to ensure that the observatory doesn’t turn out to be another significant addition to Beijing’s alleged ‘String of Pearls’ to encircle India, a leader of the main opposition MDP party reportedly said. Also Read - Disengagement Begins in Galwan: China Withdraws Troops by At Least 1-2 KM, Heavy Armoured Vehicles Still Present, Say Sources
“The underwater ocean observation centre in the South China Sea will be dual purpose, with civilian and military applications. China’s supposed plan to build such a centre in the Maldives would effectively open a Chinese maritime front against India, in the same quiet way that China opened a Himalayan front against India in the 1950s,” Strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney was quoted as saying.
Considering the ongoing crisis in the Maldives, India has limited options as any tough stand on the current government can further destabilise the situation and increase the possibility of civil unrest. President Abdulla Yameen last week extended Emergency in the Maldives ignoring India’s call for restoration of the democratic process.
The Maldives considers itself instrumental in facilitating China’s multibillion-dollar Belt and Road initiative or One Belt One Road (OBOR) Initiative in the Indian Ocean region. India has opposed the OBOR due to its sovereignty concerns over the USD 50 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). CPEC is part of the OBOR.