India is closely monitoring the Chinese activities, as the Asian giant has unveiled world’s largest seaplane, beefing up its strategic reach to South China Sea and Indian Ocean.

Last week, China unveiled the amphibious ‘AG600’ aircraft mainly to fight forest fires and perform marine missions. Describing the aircraft as the world’s largest seaplane, Beijing claimed that AG600, which is about the size of a Boeing 737 (length 121ft and wingspan 128ft), has a maximum take-off weight of 53.5 tonnes and a flight range of 4,500km. The aircraft can collect 12 tonnes of water in only 20 seconds.

Speaking at a press conference in Beijing, a senior Chinese official said that the latest breakthrough in the country’s aviation industry would reduce the Asian giant’s dependence on foreign firms, like Airbus and Boeing. According to the official, the newly unveiled aircraft could take off and land on both land and water.

The official further said that it was the result of seven years of work by a group of 70 aircraft component manufacturers and research teams with more than 150 institutes from 20 provinces and municipalities in China. The development and production of the plane received government approval in 2009.

Defence experts believe that the aircraft can help China, which is locked in disputes with several of its neighbours (including Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines) over the rights to develop economic resources in waters off its shores, to extend its ability to conduct a variety of operations in the area. The unveiling of the AG600 came shortly after Chinese heavy transport ‘Y-20’ aircraft officially entered military service on July 7 and China’s first large passenger aircraft, the C919, rolled off the final assembly line in November 2015.  The AG600 is part of a massive programme to modernise China’s armed forces that includes the development of aircraft carriers, anti-satellite missiles and stealth fighters.

Meanwhile, China warned of ‘serious consequences’ after India refused to extend visas of three Chinese journalists on Sunday (July 24). India asked Xinhua journalists Wu Qiang, Lu Tang and She Yonggang to leave the country by July 31, as their visas would not be renewed. Although the Indian government gave no official reason for its decision, sources close the Narendra Modi administration said that the three had come under the “adverse attention of security agencies” for allegedly indulging in activities beyond their journalistic brief.

Beijing strongly criticised New Delhi for asking the three journalists to leave India, saying that India’s refusal to extend visas to them was a fallout of China’s refusal to back the South Asian country’s NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) membership bid. An editorial in China’s ‘Global Times’ daily said: “Speculation is swirling that India is taking revenge against China for the latter’s opposition to India joining the NSG. If New Delhi is really taking revenge due to the NSG membership issue, there will be serious consequences.”

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]