Chinaâ€™s expanding footprint in Maldives alarming NEW DELHI: Alarm bells are ringing afresh in the Indian security establishment over renewed efforts by China to expand its footprint in Maldives, even as New Delhi and Beijing continue with their strategic shadow-boxing all across the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). With China poised to establish a full-fledged embassy at Maldives, strategically located southwest of India astride major sea lanes in IOR, officials say Beijing has stepped up its "lobbying'' to bag a couple or more of crucial development projects in the 1,190-island archipelago. China, in particular, seems interested in developing Ihavandhoo and Maarandhoo Islands, with transhipment ports among other things, as well as grabbing a piece of action in the development of the country's second international airport at Hanimaadhoo. "The islands in question are located in the Haa Alif Atoll, situated in the north of Maldives. China wants a presence in these islands since they are the closest to India and Sri Lanka,'' said an official. There have also been reports about Chinese plans to establish a naval submarine base in Marao, an island of Maldives, but they have remained shrouded in mystery. China's efforts to make further inroads into Maldives have gained momentum after the visit of Wu Bangguo, the chairman of the standing committee of the Chinese National People's Congress, to Male in May. China has for long being building maritime and other linkages with eastern Africa, Seychelles, Mauritius, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Cambodia, among others. Pakistan has been a more-than-willing partner in all this, with the Gwadar deep-sea port being built with Chinese help in Baluchistan. China's main aim is to ensure the security of its sea lanes facilitating its critically-needed energy imports. But there is no getting away from the fact that it also amounts to a virtual encircling of India, in what is called the "string-of-pearls" construct. Indian military brass' concerns about the "serious challenges" posed by China's expanding footprint in IOR as well as South Asia, incidentally, are expected to figure once again during the annual combined commanders' conference to be addressed by PM Manmohan Singh on Tuesday. India, too, has been taking steps to counter China's strategic moves by stepping up its defence engagement with countries like Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. After defence minister A K Antony's visit to Male in August 2009, for instance, Indian warships and Dornier reconnaissance aircraft are helping Maldives in maritime patrol and surveillance. New Delhi is also assisting Male to set up a network of ground radars in all its 26 atolls and link them with the Indian military surveillance systems. Earlier, apart from hydrographic surveys and other military assistance, India had 'transferred' INS Tillanchang, a 260-tonne fast-attack craft designed for fast and covert operations against smugglers, gun-runners and terrorists, to Maldives in 2006.