Official sources in the defence ministry denied reports that a flotilla of Chinese warships had sailed close to the island chain of Maldives in the Indian Ocean, as the country faced a constitutional crisis. The Chinese naval movement during this period was at least 2,500 nautical miles (around 5,000 km) away from Maldives, the sources said.
While there was no official comment from the Indian government on Tuesday to the Chinese deployment, sources said it could be part of an “anti-piracy exercise”. The Ministries of External Affairs and Defence were in constant touch on the matter, sources said. Navy spokesperson Captain D K Sharma told The Indian Express, “We have a very robust surveillance system in the Indian Ocean region, which is supported by Mission Based Deployment in place since July 2017.” As part of the mission-based deployment, at least 11 Navy vessels are deployed at various strategic locations for maritime domain awareness. The Navy also uses its long-range P8I aircraft for monitoring the seas in its area of interest.
Sources indicated that no Chinese warship movement has been detected near Maldives. They said that a Chinese Navy task force entered the Indian Ocean a couple of weeks back from Sunda strait for training exercises in international waters closer to Australia and had since left via Lombok strait. This was monitored by Indian Navy and did not raise any alarms. Citing a Chinese news portal, Reuters had earlier reported that 11 Chinese warships sailed into the East Indian Ocean this month, when Maldives faced a crisis resulting in a state of emergency. The report, however, did not link the deployment to the crisis in the Maldives or give a reason.
“If you look at warships and other equipment, the gap between the Indian and Chinese navy is not large,” Sina.com.cn said on Sunday. The report was put out by Reuters on Tuesday, but did not say when the fleet was deployed or for how long. China’s Ministry of Defence did not respond to requests from Reuters for comment. According to sources, Indian Navy has two detachments of Advanced Light Helicopters (SAR variant) while the Indian Coast Guard has a Dornier aircraft positioned in the Maldives. This means that more than three dozen Indian Navy personnel are present in the country at any given time.
Sources also highlighted that the Navy is currently conducting the month-long Exercise Pashchim Lehar in the Arabian Sea, which is witnessing participation of more than 40 warships.