It seems China and India are jockeying for economic and political position in the strategically important Maldives islands. The Maldives is a Muslim nation of around 430,000 people sitting in the Arabian Sea but just to the south of regional power India (map above). The Maldives is suffering a leadership and judicial crisis which began this month. Some in the Maldives are seeking Indian military peace-keeping while others are mindful that the Maldives is heavily financial indebted to China. Also China is the largest source of blameless tourist traffic to the Maldives.
Over the last week many of the Western press believe or disbelieve that China despatched a mixed fleet of around 10 ships (including destroyers, frigates, supply and a landing ship) to put some gunboat diplomacy pressure on the Maldives and India.
A Western website reported that Chinese News outlets appeared to concoct the story "Last week, the state-aligned paper Global Times warned that “If India one-sidedly sends troops to the Maldives, China will take action to stop New Delhi." Sina.com.cn reported [on February 17, 2018] that there are presently 11 PLA(N) surface warships in the Indian Ocean".
The Indian Press has covered the Maldives Crisis more closely, soberly, with miniscule sabre-rattling.
On February 22, 2018, Prabhash K Dutta reported from New Delhi along the lines:
In January 2018 before the Maldives crisis started the Chinese Navy began an exercise in the South China Sea..."The Chinese naval fleet proceeded towards South Pacific Ocean and touched Australian waters before turning back. Reports suggest that on their backward journey, the Chinese naval fleet had to pass through the Indian Ocean for some distance....no Chinese warship were deployed close to the Maldives....A Chinese destroyer and a frigate had crossed into the Eastern Indian Ocean through the Sunda Strait and exited the Indian Ocean through the Lombok Strait
[the straits are on each side of the most important Indonesian island of Java with Jakarta the capital. See map below]
while heading towards the South China Sea. The two sea passages are located on the margins of Indian Ocean near Indonesia, and some 2,500 nautical miles or over 4,600 kilometres from Maldives."
So the sailors of China are, as always, chock full of innocence and international goodwill despite what Chinese news-sites concoct. Confused?
It is but a slur that "The cost of Chinese [financial assistance to the Maldives] may prove to be steep. Like Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the Maldives is deeply indebted to China, and it may eventually come under pressure from Beijing to give up large assets - like land or port facilities - in return for debt forgiveness."
The Chinese destroyer and a frigate following the dotted line crossing into the Eastern Indian Ocean through the Sunda Strait then east exiting the Indian Ocean through the Lombok Strait. These straits are on each side of the most important Indonesian island of Java with Jakarta the capital. The Chinese were safely some 2,500 nautical miles or over 4,600 kms from the Maldives.
Any Chinese submarine movements near the Maldives remain unknown!