India Raises Concerns Over Chinese Surveillance Facilities at Coco Islands in Myanmar
India has expressed serious concern over Myanmar's decision to allow China to establish surveillance and monitoring facilities at Coco Islands in the Bay of Bengal. The move is believed to enable China to track India's missile launches from the Balasore test range in Odisha, as well as strategic assets stationed off the eastern seaboard near Visakhapatnam.
The lengthening of the air strip at Coco Island to 2,300 meters, now capable of accommodating transport aircraft, has raised alarms in India. While India intends to maintain engagement with Myanmar's current political leadership led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, it has raised the issue of Coco Islands and remains dissatisfied with the responses received from Naypyidaw. Myanmar's junta has denied any Chinese involvement in extending the runway, constructing hardened shelters, setting up monitoring stations, or developing infrastructure in Coco Islands.
Despite Myanmar's wariness of China, it finds itself compelled to align with Beijing due to the latter's continuous engagement and substantial aid amounting to USD four billion. China is also seeking to involve Naypyidaw in its Belt and Road Initiative, alongside Bangladesh, in order to establish dominance in the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean.
Satellite imagery and inputs from national security planners indicate that the runway expansion at Coco Island has been carried out to facilitate transport aircraft flights, and new sheds and barracks have been constructed to house approximately 1,500 military personnel, including Chinese personnel. The presence of Chinese monitoring in Coco Island was first highlighted by George Fernandes, the Defense Minister in the Vajpayee government. However, his claims were criticized by pro-China advocates in India.
Currently, construction work is underway to build a causeway connecting Coco Island with the neighboring Jerry Island, with land clearance being conducted by Myanmar military personnel. The Tatmadaw, or the Myanmar Army, has permeated Burmese society, making it unlikely that the junta will be overthrown by democratic forces in the near future.
While India will continue to raise the issue of Coco Islands with Myanmar, it is concerned about the People's Liberation Army (PLA) monitoring the movement of India's nuclear submarines at the newly constructed naval base in Rambilli, located just 50 kilometers from Visakhapatnam. India's ballistic missile-firing submarines are stationed on its eastern coast, with the new SSBN currently undergoing refitting near Visakhapatnam. The Balasore test range and the APJ Abdul Kalam Island, where nuclear and conventional missile tests take place, are situated on the same latitude as Coco Island. This implies that China's deep state can not only monitor the range and effectiveness of Indian missiles but also gather crucial intelligence through its air surveillance and ballistic missile tracking ships operating in the Indian Ocean.