Satellite images released by Maxar Technologies and analysed by the thinktank Chatham House reveal military modernisation on Myanmar’s Great Coco island. The island, located just 55 km away from India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands, may soon become a new airbase for Myanmar, with increased ties to Beijing. The images show the construction of a lengthened runway, radar station, two new hangars, an accommodation block, and a new causeway linking to a smaller island, sparking concerns over the island’s uses.
Myanmar’s Great Coco has been shrouded in intrigue, with rumours of a Chinese intelligence facility. The evidence of land clearing efforts at the tip of the island suggests further construction work is to come. Great Coco is small at 11 km in length, but its location is strategically important. It is not only close to the Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, The Guardian reported.
Recent construction activity on the island has sparked concerns that China, which Myanmar has grown increasingly dependent on since the February 2021 coup, could use the island to gather intelligence, either through espionage or intelligence sharing. India has reportedly been monitoring developments closely and recently presented Myanmar with intelligence indicating that China was assisting in building a surveillance post on the island. China has denied the allegations, but Myanmar’s military has sought closer ties with Beijing since the coup, supporting its claim to Taiwan and endorsing China’s “global security initiative.”
The authors of the Chatham House report noted that the Maxar images did not reveal specific evidence of Chinese activity on Great Coco. According to analysts, Myanmar’s military may be attempting to gain economic and diplomatic support by playing India and China against each other. Damien Symon, co-author of the Chatham House report and member of the Intel Lab, stated that Great Coco could be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations with Delhi, as the Myanmar military is aware of India’s concerns about potential Chinese surveillance of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.