NEW DELHI/COLOMBO: A Chinese naval combat force that entered the Indian Ocean for the first time in four years may have helped deter an Indian intervention in the Maldives after its president imposed a state of emergency, according to military and diplomatic sources and analysts. India has traditionally been the biggest player in the tiny island chain 400 km to its south, and faced calls from Maldives’ opposition leaders last month to use force against President Abdulla Yameen to restore democracy. After the state of emergency was declared India – which sent troops to foil a coup in the Maldives three decades ago – moved aircraft and ships to its southern bases and put special forces on standby, two military sources in New Delhi said. But in the end, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held off from hard action, unwilling to entangle the military in a foreign country of 400,000 people, the sources said. Beijing’s signals it would not look kindly on any foreign involvement in the Maldives – where it is investing millions of dollars as part of its Belt and Road Initiative – backed up by its naval presence in the eastern Indian Ocean, may also have weighed against an intervention, security analysts said. China’s defense ministry said the ships carried out routine exercises. “These drills were normal exercises for this year and not aimed at any third party,” the ministry said in a statement, when asked whether the maneuvers were linked to the crisis in Maldives. It did not elaborate. Beijing’s foreign ministry said it was paying close attention to events in the Maldives and had asked the government in Male to protect Chinese interests there. Last week Vijay Gokhale, India’s top diplomat, made an unscheduled visit to Beijing where the two sides discussed ways to address their differences on the basis of mutual respect and sensitivity to each other’s concerns, interests and aspirations, the Indian foreign ministry said. Liu Zongyi, a South Asia expert at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, told the People’s Daily in January that Yameen’s tilt towards China had caused unhappiness in New Delhi. India had been infuriated with the signing of a free trade deal with China last December, he said, adding, “The political unrest in the Maldives in actual fact is a power struggle with international factors.” In the Maldives, Yameen, long criticized for running his Muslim majority nation with an iron fist, rejected a surprise Supreme Court decision on Feb 1 to free political dissidents. Instead, the Maldives’ leader threw the judges too into prison and imposed a state of emergency, saying he was acting to thwart a coup. Beijing said events in the Maldives were an internal matter and the international community should play ‘a constructive role’ and avoid ‘further complicating the situation’. Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army posted photos of the warships, whose number had by then swelled to 11, taking part in rescue training exercises, according to Chinese state media. Soon after the emergency was declared in the Maldives, India’s military moved C-130 Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster transport planes from near Delhi to its Yelahanka air force base near the southern city of Bengaluru, and ordered paratroops to be on stand-by, the two Indian military sources said. Warships were also put on readiness at the southern naval command in Kochi, they said. A government official dealing with security issues said moving planes and ships was standard operating procedure for the military. A few days later the Indian navy launched ‘large-scale operational exercises’ in the western Indian Ocean involving 40 warships including an aircraft carrier. The naval official said these were pre-planned. Published in Daily Times, March 8th 2018.