Another Chinese research vessel spotted off India, fuelling unease

By Thomson Reuters Mar 11, 2024 | 5:33 AM

By Krishn Kaushik

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A second Chinese research vessel in two months has been spotted near India’s coast, adding to New Delhi’s anxiety over possible military intelligence-gathering in its backyard.

The two Asian superpowers have uneasy ties, with a military standoff on their Himalayan border since mid-2020 and a war fought between them in 1962.

The Xiang Yang Hong 01 was seen off India’s eastern coast over the weekend, according to an Indian security official, a geo-intelligence researcher and ship tracking information.

It follows a similar ship’s docking at a Maldivian port last month. Both are owned by units of China’s natural resources ministry.

Beijing says the vessels carry out ocean-bed surveys for peaceful scientific reasons only and dismisses any concerns as ungrounded fear-mongering. But Indian officials worry the vessels could also gather information that may be of use to China’s military, including for submarine deployments.

Damien Symon, a researcher with The Intel Lab, a global network of geospatial intelligence experts, said via X on Sunday evening that the latest Chinese boat had entered the Bay Of Bengal region.

A senior Indian official, speaking anonymously, said the Chinese ship was operating southeast of the Indian coastal city of Vizag and was under “active surveillance”.

The Indian navy and Chinese defence ministry did not respond to requests seeking comments.

Sri Lanka last year imposed a moratorium on foreign research ships, after which the Maldives allowed them. The Maldives has pivoted ties towards China and away from India of late.

In January a U.S. think tank had voiced concerns similar to India’s, saying that detailed knowledge of ocean depths, currents and temperature was vital to the growing submarine operations of China’s navy.

(Reporting by Krishn Kaushik; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)