Provocative move?Two of the ships forming part of the Chinese Navy’s ‘Blue 2018A’ fleet.Special arrangement
A Chinese naval contingent has been deployed in the East Indian Ocean for more than a week at a time when the Maldives is undergoing a political crisis, a Chinese website has reported.
The website, sina.com.cn, has linked the deployment of the warships, including an amphibious vessel that can transfer troops from sea to land, to the evolving situation in the Maldives.
Turbulence in region
“At present, the Indian Ocean region is not peaceful and the political situation in the Maldives continues to be turbulent,” says the post.
The article flagged on Sunday pointed out that the Chinese Navy’s ‘Blue 2018A’ fleet has been training in the East Indian Ocean for a “week or so”. However, Indian defence sources denied any movement of Chinese ships near the Indian Ocean island nation.
China had earlier warned against external intervention in the Maldives after the country’s exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed called for New Delhi’s intervention to release political prisoners. The Sina report quoted a statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry “that other countries should not interfere in the internal affairs of the Maldives”.
The detachment of the Chinese Navy comprises two 052D destroyers, a 054A frigate, and a 071 dock landing ship. A supply ship is also part of the flotilla.
An Australian website, news.com.au, underscored that the entry of Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean marks a significant shift in regional power.
“They’re there to keep India away from Beijing’s interests in the strife-torn Maldives Islands.”
“Sending warships to operate off the Maldives is a new and concerning development, because it shows that China is trying to exercise influence over a small state more usually within India’s strategic view. New Delhi will read this as a worrying move. It will intensify strategic competition and increase mistrust between China and India,” it quoted Peter Jennings of the Australian Policy Institute as saying.
The 7,500-tonne Type 052D guided missile destroyer (Luyang-III class) boards a crew of 280 members. Land attack cruise missiles, as well as other projectiles which can target submarines, aircraft and hostile warships provide it credible firepower.
The Type 054A frigate (Jiangkai II) has a hard-to-pick stealthy design and good anti-ship and counter-submarine capability.
The Type 071 amphibious transport ship is geared for beach landing troops. An array of amphibious landing craft, assault vehicles and two back-up helicopters are used for sea-to-land deployment of around 800 troops, equivalent of an army battalion. “Overall, the Chinese Navy is sending out an amphibious convoy fleet with strong regional air defence, anti-ship and anti-submarine capabilities and the ability to deliver rather large-scale amphibious troops quickly,” Sina observed.
The post highlighted that two additional naval groups, already deployed for anti-piracy escort missions of commercial ships, beef up the Navy’s overall deployment in the Indian Ocean at this time.
These include the 27th escort convoy comprising a destroyer, frigate and a replenishment ship that may have entered the southern Indian Ocean, having crossed the southern tip of Africa, after completing its mission in the Atlantic more than 10 days ago.
It partners with the Navy’s third ship contingent in the Indian Ocean — the 28th convoy escort formation in the western Indian Ocean. “Just this time, 11 warships of the three naval formations have appeared in the east, west and south Indian Ocean at the same time. This reaction speed and mobilisation ability can be achieved by the few state navies in the world,” the article claimed.
Not near Maldives
Meanwhile, Indian defence sources said no movement of Chinese ships was detected near the Maldivian waters. “The closest the Chinese ships came near Maldives was about 2,500 nautical miles away,” a defence source said on Tuesday.
A couple of weeks back, a Chinese naval task force has entered the Indian Ocean from the Sunda Strait for exercises in international waters closer to Australia and has since left via the Lombok Strait, the source explained.
Asked about the development, Indian Navy spokesperson Capt. D.K. Sharma said: “Indian Navy has a robust maritime domain awareness and we have a clear picture of the happenings in the Indian Ocean Region.”