On the 4th of December 2022, a naval vessel of the Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) known to analysts as Yuan Wang-5 re-entered the Indian Ocean through the Sunda Strait off the coast of Indonesia. It has been observed more than once that PLAN has deployed its surveillance vessels when India has conducted its ballistic missile tests in the Bay of Bengal.
India has issued a Notice to Airmen that there will be a no-fly zone in the Bay of Bengal on the 15th and 16th of December 2022 for a maximum distance of 5,400 kilometres. According to the given range, the missile will be India’s IRBM (Agni-5). IRBM stands for Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile.
As per the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS), research activities are allowed in international waters. However, the data generated shows the dual nature of the surveillance activities. This has raised doubtful questions and concerns related to the actual motive behind the ship’s visit.
There had been a steady rise in deploying Chinese research vessels in the IOR. The general area of deployment observed was around the ninety-degree east ridge and southwest Indian ridge. The research or survey vessels have powerful equipment for snooping and gathering data.
The Indian Navy Chief, Admiral Hari Kumar, stated that there is a presence of external powers in the Indian Ocean along with fishing vessels, research ships and merchant’s vessels. They have the freedom to operate according to the UNCLOS. However, the Indian Navy will act when Indian Maritime interests and sovereignty are threatened or in danger.
China has since set up a military base in Djibouti and developed several dual-use ports in the IOR in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Pakistan, among other countries.
The Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean began in 2008 under the garb of anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and has since maintained a continuous presence in the region, even deploying nuclear attack submarines (SSN) on certain occasions.
In August 2022, the Yuan Wang-5 Ship was spotted at the Chinese-made Hambantota port in Sri Lanka. This has led to a substantial diplomatic showdown between bankrupt Sri Lanka and India.
In a similar incident, the Chinese ship Yuan Wang-6 entered the Indian Ocean in November 2022. The ship’s entry coincided with another planned missile launch. But then, to China’s dismay, the launch was deferred.