The presence of Chinese 'spy ships' in the Indian Ocean, particularly near Sri Lanka, has been a point of contention and concern for India. These ships are ostensibly in the region to conduct marine research, but India suspects that their activities may have a dual purpose, including surveillance and intelligence collection, which could have strategic implications for India's security.
The Economic Times report suggests that these Chinese ships are part of a larger strategy that involves:
Surveillance of Indian Activities: The presence of Chinese research ships in the Gulf of Mannar is seen as an attempt to monitor Indian naval and commercial activities in the southern part of India.
Exploration of Resources: The ships are believed to be exploring the mineral and biological resources in the Gulf of Mannar. This area has significant oil and gas reserves, which were discovered in 2011. These reserves have the potential to fulfill Sri Lanka's energy needs for up to 60 years.
Biodiversity Research: The Gulf of Mannar is rich in marine biodiversity, housing various ecosystems such as coral reefs, seagrasses, and mangroves, with thousands of species of flora and fauna.
Debt Influence: Sri Lanka's substantial financial indebtedness to China is considered a leverage point that China may be using to gain access and permissions for such activities. Over half of Sri Lanka's foreign loans are from China, which gives China a strong influence over Sri Lankan affairs.
Strategic Posturing: The use of Sri Lanka's Hambantota port by Chinese vessels for refueling and other logistics supports the view that China is expanding its strategic footprint in the Indian Ocean.
The concerns are amplified by the fact that the Indian Ocean is a vital conduit for global trade and energy supplies, and India views the Chinese presence as part of China's broader "String of Pearls" strategy to encircle India with a network of military and commercial facilities.
While Sri Lanka has provided assurances to India that its strategic interests will not be compromised, the situation highlights the complex geopolitical dynamics in the region, with India seeking to balance its relations with its neighbor against the backdrop of China's growing assertiveness in the Indian Ocean region.