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Maldives' Chinese ship move could anger India

The Maldives say they are open to civilian and military vessels from friendly countries

The Maldives say they are open to civilian and military vessels from friendly countries

The government of the Maldives on Tuesday announced that a Chinese marine research vessel, the Xiang Yang Hong 03, had been given permission to dock in the archipelago.

The Maldives Foreign Ministry said the vessel was currently en route but did not specify when it was expected to arrive.

The Foreign Ministry said it had received a "diplomatic request" from Beijing for permission to dock. According to officials, The vessel will reportedly rotate crew and resupply in port before heading back out to sea, and will not conduct any research while in Maldives' waters.

A Foreign Ministry statement said, "The Maldives has always been a welcoming destination for vessels of friendly countries, and continues to host both civilian and military vessels making port calls for peaceful purposes."

Neighboring India, which previously warned against allowing the Chinese to operate in the Indian Ocean, has yet to comment on Tuesday's announcement.

Rocky relations between the Maldives and India

Relations between India and the Maldives have soured since Mohamed Muizzu was elected president of the archipelago in November. The pro-Beijing politician ran on the promise to kick "India out" of the country and recently traveled to Beijing for meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

New Delhi, which has always considered the Maldives to be in its sphere of influence, has bristled at Beijing's overtures to Male. Beijing has challenged New Delhi for influence over the islands, enlisting the Maldives as a key partner in its global Belt and Road Initiative.

New Delhi sees China as a regional threat and has raised concern over its maritime activities in the Indian Ocean, which it claims may be military in nature, simply conducted under the guise of oceanic research.

Beijing says its vessels pose no threat.

According to Maldives President Muizzu, China respects the country's territorial integrity. He has also suggested that India has no right to bully the small island nation.

Beyond security concerns — tourism

In early January, Indian President Narendra Modi triggered a cycle of acrimonious exchanges on social media that further soured relations. Modi posted photos of himself sitting, walking and snorkeling in the Indian archipelago Lakshadweep.

Lakshadweep's beaches rival those of the Maldives and observers saw Modi's posts as a potential threat to the Maldives' main source of income, tourism.

Last year, most tourists to the Maldives were from India, while the Chinese made up the largest share of visitors prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

New Delhi has spoken of Lakshadweep's potential development as a tourist destination and Modi's posts drew angry responses in the Maldives with deputy ministers going after the Indian leader by posting derogatory comments. This, in turn, triggered calls for Indians to boycott the Maldives.

Upon returning from his state visit to China just days after the Modi dust-up, Muizzu laid out plans to decouple from India — ridding the Maldives of dependence on India for health care, medicine and staple goods. He also called for a meeting with Indian officials in order to facilitate the withdrawal of some 75 Indian soldiers stationed in the Maldives by mid-March.

js/lo (AP, Reuters)