India tracking China’s research vessels a manifestation of unhealthy mind-set
Published: Jan 23, 2024 09:22 PM
India Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

India Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

After expressing dissatisfaction with Chinese research vessels docking at the port of Colombo and pressuring the Sri Lankan government, India has now set its sights on the Maldives. According to Indian media outlets reports, New Delhi has concerns about Chinese research vessels entering the Maldives, fearing that their research will be used for military purposes. Indian defense officials have even stated that the Indian Navy is monitoring the activities of Chinese research vessels. 

India's portrayal of Chinese research vessels as having "military purposes" is not something new. China's activities in the Indian Ocean region, even normal scientific research activities, are often given a military connotation by the Indian side. In recent years, India has been taking various measures to guard against China's activities in the Indian Ocean. As early as 2018, India claimed to be monitoring Chinese naval escort fleets round-the-clock. In recent years, some Indian media outlets have even referred to Chinese research vessels as "spy ships." 

This time, India's hype about Chinese research vessels on its way to the Maldives and exaggerating their "military purposes" is aimed at undermining the relationship between China and the Maldives, putting pressure on Maldivian leaders and the public, and promoting the perception of China as a threat.

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu visited China earlier this month, and some Indian media outlets labeled him as "pro-China" because he chose to visit China before India. The dispatch of Chinese research vessels to the Maldives has particularly irritated the sensitive nerves of the Indian media. According to the Times of India, the Maldives allowed Chinese vessels to enter after the Muizzu government refused to renew a hydrography agreement with New Delhi. This decision by the Maldives has raised concerns in New Delhi, and the Indian media has described China's normal scientific research missions as a "dubious mission."

The visit of the president of the Maldives to China opened a new chapter in China-Maldives cooperation, and the bilateral relationship is advancing. China adheres to mutual respect and support, establishing a benchmark for equal treatment and mutually beneficial cooperation between countries of different sizes. China is strengthening scientific research cooperation in the Indian Ocean with relevant countries, including the Maldives, which will only contribute to a deeper understanding of the Indian Ocean, promote marine ecological protection, and jointly address challenges.

Li Jiasheng, a researcher at the Center for Asia-Europe Studies of Xi'an Jiaotong University, told the Global Times that India has always cast normal economic activities, scientific activities, and even cultural exchanges between China and other regional countries through a security lens. India has a persecutory delusion in its perception of China. India is particularly uneasy of China's presence in the Indian Ocean, so it has always been very vigilant and repeatedly hyped the perception of China as a threat. 

"India's hype and opposition are attempts to interfere in China's cooperation with the Maldives, reflecting India's hegemonic mindset in the South Asian region," said Long Xingchun, a professor of the School of International Relations, Sichuan International Studies University. India not only opposes and monitors Chinese research vessels in the Indian Ocean but also tries to persuade regional countries to refuse maintenance and supplies for Chinese research vessels. Recently, Sri Lanka rejected the docking and supply of Chinese research vessels due to pressure from India.

The Indian Ocean is not "India's Ocean," and all countries have the right to conduct scientific research in the ocean as long as they comply with international law. However, India has maintained an "unhealthy" mentality for a long time, regarding the Indian Ocean as its own waters and believing that China's entry into the Indian Ocean threatens India's dominant position in the region. India's current hype about Chinese research vessels going to the Maldives is consistent with its hegemonic logic. The Maldives' cooperation with China will not succumb to India's pressure. Faced with India's arrogant and domineering diplomacy, South Asian countries should learn to say no.