Chinese warships enter East Indian Ocean amid Maldives constitutional crisis

Beijing and New Delhi are competing for influence in the strategically-located chain

People's Liberation Army Navy destroyer Yinchuan enters Hong Kong
People's Liberation Army Navy destroyer Yinchuan enters Hong Kong

Eleven Chinese warships reportedly sailed into the East Indian Ocean this month, amid a state of emergency in the Maldives.

A fleet of destroyers, at least one frigate, a 30,000-tonne amphibious transport dock and three support tankers entered the Indian Ocean, news portal Sina.com.cn reported. It did not link the deployment to a constitutional crisis currently underway in the Maldives, or giving a reason for the deployment.

China and India have been competing for influence in the tropical island chain, which is in a strategically-important location.

Maldivian president Abdulla Yameen imposed a state of emergency on 5 February to annul a Supreme Court ruling that quashed convictions against nine opposition leaders and ordered his government to free those held in prison.

Mr Yameen's administration has subsequently arrested the chief justice, another Supreme Court judge and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on allegations of attempting to overthrow the government.

He sought parliamentary approval to extend the state of emergency for 30 days earlier this week.

"If you look at warships and other equipment, the gap between the Indian and Chinese navy is not large," Sina.com.cn reported. It did not say when the fleet was deployed or for how long.

Rivalry between old foes India and China for influence in the Maldives became evident after President Abdulla Yameen signed up to Beijing's Belt and Road initiative to build trade and transport links across Asia and beyond.

India, which has had longstanding political and security ties to the islands about 250 miles away, has sought to push back against China's expanding presence in the overwhelmingly Muslim country of 400,000 people. Maldivian opposition leaders have urged New Delhi to intervene in the crisis.

China's Ministry of Defence did not respond to requests for comment, but last week the country's People's Liberation Army posted photos and a story on rescue training exercises taking place in the East Indian Ocean on its official Twitter-like Weibo account.

China earlier this month advised its citizens to avoid visiting the Maldives, famous its luxury hotels, scuba-diving resorts and limpid tropical seas, until political tensions subside.

It has been striking deals with countries in Asia and Africa in line with its Belt and Road initiative to improve imports of key commodities, upgrade infrastructure and trade routes in the region and boost its diplomatic clout.

China has drawn criticism in the West for its military buildup of the neighbouring South China Sea, where it has built and expanded islands and reefs.

Beijing claims most of the sea where neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

Reuters

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