Recent military infrastructure improvements in the Myanmar-controlled Coco Islands confirm India's long-held fear that the Chinese government is using the strategically important island.
The Coco Islands, which are under the jurisdiction of Myanmar, were once General Ne Win's penal colony in the late 1950s, but recently underwent a new constitution, raising suspicion.
New construction can be seen in the Great Coco Island area, where Maxar Technologies' satellite images from January this year show two recently constructed hangars in the region's center, a few new buildings to the north, a sizable pier that may be used to speed up naval operations, and other new structures.
Furthermore, the Coco Islands Airbase's runway, which was just 1,300 meters a decade ago, has now been dramatically extended to 2,300 meters. The London-based think tank Chatham House was the one to initially raise awareness of the problem.
Geopolitical specialists speculate that the Myanmar Junta, also known as Tatmadaw, is preparing the islands for its clandestine naval surveillance operations, frequently in cooperation with China. The concern is further increased by the junta's growing reliance on the CCP (China Communist Party) in the immediate aftermath of the coup. Beijing's relations with the Tatmadaw, however, have been sporadic since it ascended to the kingdom of Myanmar.
In its results, a Reuters analysis also noted a sharp increase in the installation of surveillance cameras made in China in Myanmar's heavily populated cities, possibly to monitor residents' movements. So, the current state of affairs between the two is supporting the assumptions even more.
In terms of geopolitics, the PLA (People's Liberation Army) would advance strategically by establishing a covert presence in the Coco Islands since it may provide it significant access to vital Indian Ocean shipping lanes, allowing it to avoid the Strait of Malacca. China has made significant investments in Myanmar through the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor to obtain reciprocal favors from Myanmar's government.
Over 200 houses, according to a three-dimensional image of the infrastructure, are thought to be homes for the Myanmar military soldiers and their families who live on the island.
It's not surprising that there may be a Chinese presence on the important island. According to reports, India brought up these issues with Burma in 2009. There have been numerous rumors of China exploiting those islands for military and naval objectives since the early 1990s. There have been claims of Chinese-built SIGINT listening stations in the Andaman Sea, at least in Manaung, Hainggyi, Zadetkyi, and the Coco Islands in Myanmar, according to a 2014 paper from the Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Research and Analyses.
In naval bases and facilities close to Yangon, Moulmein, and Mergui, Chinese technicians and instructors have been working on radar installations.
Off the Andaman Islands, the Indian Coast Guard has stopped fishing trawlers flying Myanmar flags. During an inspection, it was discovered that the entire crew was made up of Chinese nationals who were on submarine-specific trips with radio and depth-sounding equipment.
Moreover, concerns about the potential reconnaissance of important military positions are raised by the island's proximity to the Indian Tri-service Command, which is located on the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
As the only tri-service command in India with the Navy, Air Force, and Army cooperating, the Andaman and Nicobar Command is in a special position.
Because of the numerous trade routes that run through the area and China's growing aggressiveness there, India places a high strategic value on the region and is working to improve its marine and surveillance capabilities there.
To protect India's strategic interests in Southeast Asia, the integrated command was created in 2001, which resulted in the deployment of more military resources there.
China has been increasing its naval presence in the Indian Ocean Area (IOR) in recent years, frequently masking its submarine actions as anti-piracy operations. It has been feared that one of the adjacent "spy bases" may be closely observing its operations.
Concerns have also been expressed about the potential monitoring of important Indian military and space research organizations, such as the DRDO (Defence Research and Military Organization) close to the coast of Odisha and the ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) situated in Sriharikota.
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