The report emerged after British international affairs think tank Chatham House released a report titled "Is Myanmar building a spy base on Great Coco Island?" The report indicated that Myanmar has neither the motivation nor the resources to conduct such a massive military buildup on the islands, which are only 30 miles north of India's strategically important Andaman and Nicobar Islands. (Related: Japan, India launch first joint air combat drills amid growing threat posed by China.)
The images show extensive military buildup over the years on Coco Islands. The report stated that the islands show signs of "a steady makeover, with military modernization."
One such modernization is the major extension on the island's runway. New hangars and a radar station are also being built, suggesting that the island could become a base for aircraft.
Myanmar's military junta seized power via a coup in February 2021, ousting the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Since then, the country's cash-strapped military has been ostracized by most nations in the global community, facing a wide array of sanctions while fending off attempts to overthrow the coup government by armed resistance groups.
Because of this deteriorating political and economic situation at home, Chatham House believes the country is likely receiving substantial amounts of aid from another country to build the military installations on the Coco Islands.
"Given their close relations with India, Myanmar's other major partners like Japan or ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] have no intention of monitoring India from the Coco Islands," commented Swaran Singh, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada. He added that Myanmar also does not have the financial and technical capabilities to launch such complex infrastructure projects on the Coco Islands.
"China is bound to be a natural suspect, as it has both the intention and the wherewithal and, above all, it has secured access to the Coco Islands for the last 30 years," said Singh. He added that China's aim with the installations would likely be to monitor India's military, including its major missile testing sites in the nearby seas.
Chatham House's report and the satellite images of Great Coco Island were widely shared by Indian government representatives, who have confronted Myanmar officials in recent months with the intelligence that the country may be working with China to build an espionage facility on the island.
Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, a spokesman for Myanmar's ruling State Administration Council, called the allegation that China was building espionage facilities in the Coco Islands absurd. He denied it and said Myanmar would never allow access to foreign troops on its soil.
"Myanmar and India always have discussions at many levels, but there was no specific discussion on this issue," said the general. "The Indian government already knows perfectly well that only Myanmar security forces are based there, and they are doing defense activities for their own country."
China itself has hit back at Chatham House's report, with the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs calling it "sheer nonsense."
India plans to continue pressuring Myanmar's junta to prevent China from operating on the island, but Indian officials assessed that the generals have become far too economically dependent on Beijing since the coup to refuse any kind of demand from the Chinese.
Recent reports from Indian intelligence said that China currently has no offensive military capabilities on the island. But these same reports warn that Myanmar has allowed a Chinese signals intelligence facility to operate on the island since the 1990s, and Chinese "research vessels" have been repeatedly snooping in the nearby waters.
"The government keeps a constant watch on all developments having a bearing on India's security," said Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, who added that the country would take "necessary measures" to safeguard its interests.
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Watch this clip from G News discussing China's plan to further connect itself with Myanmar by creating a railway connecting the communist nation to the Indian Ocean through Myanmar.