New Delhi: Myanmar’s Coco Islands, which has always been suspected to be used by the Chinese as a listening post targeting India’s strategic Andaman and Nicobar Islands, is witnessing military modernisation and creation of facilities for aircraft operations, latest satellite imagery shows.
The photos from January by satellite imagery firm Maxar Technologies reveal renewed levels of construction activity on Great Coco Island.
In an article published by Chatham House, an independent policy institute headquartered in London, satellite imagery expert Damien Symon, who goes by his Twitter handle @detresfa_, and foreign affairs and security issues expert John Pollock wrote that visible are two new hangars, a new causeway and what appears to be an accommodation bloc — all of which are visible in proximity to a freshly lengthened 2,300-metre runway and radar station.
Visible as of late March on the southern tip of Great Coco, just beyond the causeway connecting the islands, is evidence of land clearing efforts indicating construction work to come, the article said.
Great Coco Island, the largest in an isolated archipelago that lies just 55 km north of Andaman and Nicobar Islands — the home to India’s first tri-service command — has been rumoured to have Chinese presence over the last two decades at least.
Sources in the Indian defence establishment told ThePrint that the Chinese have always been suspected of having an intelligence set up on the island with the use of specialised radars and listening points which allegedly went for an upgrade last year and are capable of tracking India’s defence activities, including missile testing.
While India maintains a working relationship with Myanmar, China’s sway has increased with the military junta there taking control back from the civilian government.
Beijing has invested heavily in the country through the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor to access Indian Ocean sea lanes as a way to bypass the Strait of Malacca — a critical sea lane for shipping destined for China’s east coast.
Growing evidence suggests Myanmar’s military coup has increased Beijing’s influence in the country. With Myanmar’s armed forces struggling to control large swaths of the country and with the economy in freefall, China seems to be shoring up the regime and protecting its investments for now.
“Chinese companies are believed to be operating on the ground, building major infrastructure projects such as deep-water ports, while the junta is allocating the few troops it has left to protect them,” the article said.
It added that India may soon face a new airbase close by in a country increasingly tied to Beijing.
The militarisation of the Coco Islands by the Tatmadaw (armed forces), combined with the wider Chinese developments occurring inland, could pose a significant security challenge to India and its navy.
Chinese commercial shipping could soon bypass the strait and offload their cargo in Myanmar, nullifying India’s advantage, the article said.
“There is another concern. If China were to further apply pressure to the Tatmadaw, leveraging naval intelligence acquired from surveillance flights from Great Coco for desperately needed economic investment, it would give Beijing a key regional advantage over New Delhi,’ it added.
(Edited by Tony Rai)
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