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China Expands Security Ties in Indian Ocean, Intensifying Rivalry with India

China has recently intensified efforts to deepen security ties with countries in the Indian Ocean region. It has signed a new security agreement with the Maldives, and it dispatched a military delegation to visit three other countries in the region earlier this month.

On March 4th, the Maldives’ Defense Ministry announced the signing of a military assistance agreement with China to “nurture stronger bilateral ties.” Details were not provided. China’s Defense Ministry also sent a delegation on a 10-day visit to the Maldives, Sri Lanka and Nepal. They met with Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu and Maldives defense officials to “discuss regional security issues of common concern,” develop bilateral military relations, and promote defense cooperation.

Concurrently, India began withdrawing around 80 security personnel from the Maldives at Muizzu’s request. The Indian personnel had been deployed to operate helicopters and aircraft for surveillance or rescue operations.

Chinese research vessel activity near the Maldives has increased recently. A Chinese research vessel visited the Maldives last month, raising Indian security concerns that Beijing could use gathered data to deploy naval ships to the region.

Analysts suggest that the Indian Ocean region is becoming another arena for geopolitical rivalry over the next decade, with the potential for low-level conflicts between major powers like India and China. According to David Brewster of the Australian National University, China’s recent developments in the area are part of long-term efforts to boost the country’s regional security presence. Brewster said “China has been doing this for about 15 years, seizing opportunities to increase its Indian Ocean presence.”

India has been taking steps to bolster its own presence in the region and partner with like-minded democracies. Indian policymakers may worry about China’s increasing security footprint in the Indian Ocean.

Source: Voice of America, March 19, 2024