Ocean’s Eleven?

Amidst political crisis in the Maldives, China has sent a naval fleet to the Indian Ocean, triggering a fresh tension in the region.
The Chinese state media reported that at least 11 warships entered the eastern part of the Indian Ocean earlier this week. However, the Chinese media didn’t mention whether there was a link between Beijing’s move and the ongoing political crisis in the Maldives. For Indian defence experts, the presence of 11 Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean without any prior information to the littoral countries or provocation is not ‘common’.
The Chinese media have confirmed that the flotilla comprises two 052D destroyers, a 054A frigate, a 071 dock landing ship and a supply ship. Beijing claimed that the fleet arrived in a region near Maldives several days ago and the People’s Liberation Army-Navy posted some images of the fleet on its official website. The Chinese naval forces said that the deployment was for training purposes. However, the People’s Liberation Army-Navy did not disclose how long would the fleet be in the Indian Ocean. The Chinese Defence Ministry, too, maintains silence on this issue.

In January, the Supreme Court ruled against some autocratic moves made by Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen. The president ignored the verdict and imposed a ‘State of Emergency’ in the country. He also sent the chief justice and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to jail, triggering mass protests in the Maldives. India has always maintained cordial ties with the tropical nation in the Indian Ocean. Leader of the main opposition ‘Maldivian Democratic Party’ and another former President Mohamed Nasheed urged India to send Armed Forces to Male and to help the people of his country ‘restore’ democracy. Soon after Nasheed made the request, Beijing warned India, saying that the crisis might aggravate, if India sent troops to the Maldives. Surprisingly, China, itself, deployed naval fleet in the region.
Australia has expressed serious concern over the deployment of Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean, saying in a statement that Beijing’s move marked a significant shift in regional power. “They’re there to keep India away from Beijing’s interests in the strife-torn Maldives Islands,” the statement further said.

Commenting on the issue, Peter Jennings of the Australian Policy Institute stressed: “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 is to be noted that Australia is mulling rival to China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) initiative with the US, Japan and India. Canberra has hinted that Aussie Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull may discuss the idea of establishing a joint regional infrastructure scheme during his upcoming meeting with US President Donald Trump in Washington DC. Canberra believes that the proposed initiative will be able to counter Beijing’s spreading influence in the Indian Ocean.

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