Military Makeover Of Myanmar's Coco Islands Near Andaman Fuels Speculation Of Chinese Presence

Ujjwal Shrotryia

Apr 02, 2024, 05:05 PM | Updated 05:08 PM IST

The 2,400 metres long airstrip constructed at the Coco Islands of Myanmar.
The 2,400 metres long airstrip constructed at the Coco Islands of Myanmar.
  • Military construction on Myanmar’s Coco Islands, near India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands, raises concerns of Chinese involvement in the region.
  • Myanmar’s Great Coco Islands, close to India’s strategically located Andaman and Nicobar Islands (A&N), are showing signs of increased military construction, raising concerns within India's defence establishment.

    Located just 55 kilometres north of India’s strategic A&N Islands the recent satellite imagery shows the completion of construction of a second military hangar alongside the newly lengthened 2,400-metre-long airstrip suggesting that the island can be used for conducting maritime surveillance operations.

    There have been numerous reports alleging the presence of personnel from the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Strategic Support Force (SSF) on the island, using the base as a listening post to monitor Indian military activities in the region.

    Satellite imagery of the Great Coco Islands of Myanmar. (X/ @detresfa_)
    Satellite imagery of the Great Coco Islands of Myanmar. (X/ @detresfa_)

    The A&N islands are one of the main strategic outposts for India in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), housing India’s first tri-services command and expected to house various strategically important facilities and bases.

    These islands can also be used as a fulcrum for Indian naval operations, monitoring Chinese naval traffic and shutting down its sea lanes of communication (SLOC) passing through the Malacca Straits in the event of war.

    The recent upgrading of military infrastructure, coupled with rumours of Chinese radars and antennas capable of monitoring Indian military activities from the A&N islands and missile launches from Abdul Kalam Island, located off the coast of Odisha, adds weight to suspicions regarding Chinese involvement.

    Given the proximity of Myanmar's military junta to China, particularly following its isolation from the world after the 2021 military coup, these construction activities are viewed as either done at the behest of Chinese or undertaken with their tacit approval.

    This perception gains further credibility considering China's accelerated efforts to complete the construction of their deep-sea port at Kyaukphyu on the western coast of Myanmar.

    This port is seen as an attempt by the Chinese to bypass the Malacca chokepoint. The port is also very close to INS Varsha — the naval base meant for housing India’s nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs).

    Moreover, the lack of reason for the Myanmarese military junta to develop a military base very close to India’s strategic underbelly when India and Myanmar have largely cordial relations suggests that this has a Chinese hand in it, especially since the Myanmarese military has a tough time holding its territory against Chin and Arakan rebels.

    These reports come at a time when there are four Chinese spy vessels — the Xiang Yang Hong 01, Xiang Yang Hong 03, Yuan Wang 03, and Da Yang Hao — operating in the Indian Ocean under the guise of research and hydrographic surveys.

    In fact, last month, first-ever successful test of Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicles (MIRV) capable Agni-5 ballistic missile conducted on (11 March) was monitored by Xiang Yang Hong 01.

    The Chinese already operate multiple Signal Intelligence (SIGNIT) facilities in Myanmar — Ramree Island off the coast of Arakan, the Hangyii Island facility at the Irrawaddy delta, at Monkey point in Yangon and the Island of Zadetkyi Kyun close to Kra peninsula.

    If the reports of Chinese hand behind the construction of these military facilities at Coco Islands are true, then it is imperative that India impress on the Myanmarese that a military facility (controlled by the Chinese) very close to India’s strategic bases will have significant ramifications.

    Editorial Associate at Swarajya. Writes on Indian Military and Defence.

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