A flotilla of Chinese warships sailed through the South China Sea, apparently headed for the Indian Ocean amid turmoil in the Maldives, but turned east and headed back through the Strait of Lombok, sources in the Indian security establishment have said. According to Chinese news portal sina.com.cn, a fleet of destroyers and at least one frigate, a 30,000-tone amphibious transport dock and three support tankers entered the Indian Ocean.
Sources in the Navy also said that the five Chinese warships in question were on a routine navigation deployment between the Lombok Strait and the Sunda Strait, thousands of kilometres away. "The Maldives must be under huge pressure from India" it said. "Their nearest warship is more than 2,000 nautical miles away from the island nation", he said.
The Indian Navy now has eight ships near "chokepoints" in the Indian Ocean Region between the Straits of Hormuz and the Straits of Malacca since a decision was taken previous year to go on mission-based deployments at all times. In addition to this "28th Anti-Piracy Escort Force" (APEF), as the three-vessel task force is called, three more PLA (N) warships that had formed the 27th APEF are now visiting African ports.
China has been proactively opposing any foreign intervention in Maldives since President Abdullah Yameen Abdul Gayoom, regarded as close to China, had clamped emergency early this month and arrested Supreme court judges and the opposition leaders.
Earlier this month, India asked China to play "a constructive role" in the Maldives, after President Abdulla Yameen's government in Male called upon Beijing to send troops to protect its investment in the Indian Ocean archipelago.
The sina.com.cn report also spoke about the Chinese navy's increasing capabilities compared to those of the Indian Navy.
That leaves the PLA (N) with three warships in the vicinity - its routine deployment in the Gulf of Aden for anti-piracy escort duties. "Just this time, 11 warships of the three naval formations have appeared in the east, west and south Indian Ocean at the same time".
However, the Indian Navy has said there is no question of Chinese warships lurking around close to the Maldives. "This reaction speed and mobilisation ability can be achieved by the few state navies in the world", the article claimed.
Meanwhile, a report in the nationalistic Global Times tabloid said China has upgraded its "airspace defence" in the western sector to counter threats from India. "It is significant for China to strengthen control of airspace over the mountainous region", Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert told daily. "With India importing new jets, China will continue strengthening its fighter jets in the Western Theatre Command".