China is planning to set up an Ocean Observatory in the Maldives’ Makunudhoo atoll, not far from India’s Lakshadweep Islands, the Times of India has reported.
According to the daily’s report, an agreement for setting up an observatory was finalised last year by the two countries. The observatory is likely to be a dual-use facility, having provision for a submarine base, the report says, citing claims made by the parliamentary opposition in the Maldives.
By setting up an observatory in the Maldives’ northwestern part, China would have a permanent presence close to important sea lines of communication. Important shipping routes such as the One and a Half Degree Channel and the Seven and Eight Degree Channels, which connect Middle East, Europe and Africa to Southeast Asia and China, lie close to the proposed location of the observatory.
China is also building underwater observatories in the South China Sea, reports say.
Over the past few years, various reports have indicated that China is also planning to build a port in the southern part of the Maldives. Although Male has denied any agreement with China on the same, the fact that the island named as the site of the port in various reports has been evacuated raises eyebrows. The island, called Laamu atoll, sits at the entrance to the One and a Half Degree Channel.
China has invested in a number of other projects in the Maldives.
The Maldives is currently in the midst of a deep political crisis. Embattled President Abdulla Yameen, who has refused to accept the Supreme Court’s order to free jailed political opponents, had declared a state of emergency in the country. He appears to have China’s backing, which has increased its footprint in the country in the past few years. Yameen’s government has repeatedly ignored India’s security concerns in face of rising Chinese influence and investment in the country.
Despite repeated warnings from New Delhi, Yameen extended the emergency imposed in the country for a period of 30 days.