"China's scientific research activities in relevant waters are for peaceful purposes and aimed at contributing to humanity's scientific understanding of the ocean. The activities are in strict compliance with the terms of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea," the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in response to the docking of Chinese scientific research vessel Xiang Yang Hong 03 in the Indian Ocean later this week.
"China and the Maldives have maintained close cooperation in marine scientific research. China appreciates the facilitation and assistance extended by the Maldives to Chinese research vessels entering its port on the basis of sovereignty and China-Maldives friendship and in accordance with the relevant provisions of international law," Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the ministry, said during a press briefing on Tuesday.
However, the innocuous move has been viciously hyped by India and some Western media outlets as they constantly make groundless accusations that that the research activity could be a mission to collect data for the Chinese military in submarine operations.
Indian media described the vessel as a "dual-use" ship that can map oceanographic and other data useful for navigation and submarine operations.
"Many vessels need to replenish fuel and food during sea voyage. It is very normal to choose a port call in a third country," said Qian Feng, director of the research department at the National Strategy Institute at Tsinghua University.
"The Indian Ocean is not India's ocean. It is the high seas. However, India and some of its media outlets have long been plagued by a domineering mindset, viewing China's normal, lawful and reasonable activities through tinted glasses, gauging the heart of a gentleman with that of a villain," Qian told the Global Times on Tuesday.
Whether the Chinese research ship actually has the capabilities they claim, the Maldives is more qualified to judge, rather than just spread hearsay and speculation, Qian said.
With Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu's visit to China in January, relations between China and the Maldives have been further warmed, which India is wary of, Qian pointed out. During the visit, the two heads of state announced the elevation of bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership.
According to Indian media outlet the Deccan Herald on Monday, "the Indian Navy sent the submarine INS Karanj to one of Sri Lanka's main ports, conveying a message to Beijing and Male." The media outlet even called the Chinese scientific research vessel a "spy ship" without any evidence. The Indian Navy sent the submarine to Colombo, coinciding with the Independence Day of Sri Lanka on Saturday.
India has previously conveyed to Sri Lanka its strong objections about such Chinese vessels. Sri Lanka, under India's coercion, reportedly informed India that it will not allow any Chinese research vessel to dock at its ports or operate within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) for one year.
Along with the previous opposition to China's scientific research ship docked in Sri Lanka, India sending the submarine is a move exposing its typical hegemonic mentality, Qian condemned.
India has long perceived South Asia and the Indian Ocean as its sphere of influence. The current Muizzu administration of Maldives is dissatisfied with India's infiltration into Maldivian internal affairs in terms of security and politics over the years, observers said.
The Maldives, which consists of about 1,200 coral islands and atolls in the middle of the Indian Ocean, has long been under India's sphere of influence. But Muizzu, who took over as president in November 2023, campaigned on an "India Out" platform, asking Delhi to withdraw about 80 Indian military personnel based on the island, according to a BBC news report on Monday.