Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE) China has sent a squadron of warships into the Indian Ocean after warning India not to intervene militarily in the political crisis on the Maldive Islands. According to Reuters the Chinese force numbered eleven vessels including support ships.

Maldivan President Abdulla Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency on February 5 after his refusal to comply with a Supreme Court decision to free political opposition leaders. The showdown escalated after Supreme Court judges and other political opponents were arrested.

Yameen has forged close ties with China and courted investments from Beijing. New Delhi and Washington are unhappy with Yameen’s pro-China policies, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reportedly mulling sending troops to the Maldives to intervene in the crisis after, Mohamed Nasheed, a former president now in exile, called for India to intervene on February 6.

In 1988, India flew 1,600 troops to the Indian Ocean archipelago to help the government regain control after a coup. The intervention was widely praised. In the US, President Ronald Reagan called it “a valuable contribution to regional stability”. British prime minister Margaret Thatcher said: “Thank God for India.”

On this occasion it is the opposition that wants intervention not the government. What is new is that India (and the United States) has to reckon with the increased naval power of Beijing. China now has naval bases in Djibouti and Sri Lanka, with an increased fleet of blue water warships.

On February 13 China’s state-run tabloid Global Times warned in an op-ed that Beijing would “take action” if New Delhi unilaterally decided to send troops to the crisis-hit Maldives.

“Without UN empowerment, there would be no just cause for any armed force to intervene. China will not interfere in the internal affairs of the Maldives, but that does not mean that Beijing will sit idly by as New Delhi breaks the principle. If India one-sidedly sends troops to the Maldives, China will take action to stop New Delhi,” the daily said in the op-ed.

In reply to China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean, and fearing Chinese encirclement, India has announced it is preparing to construct a significant overseas military base on Assumption Island in the Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean off East Africa, to the north of Madagascar.

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