General Studies Paper 2 (International Affairs): Chinese adventurism in the Indian Ocean

Indian Ocean neighborhood

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Syllabus: General Studies Paper 2 (International Affairs)

 

Comment upon the strategy adopted by India to counter Chinese adventurism in the Indian Ocean.

 

Introduction:

China’s exploration of Indian Ocean dates back to the Before Christ era, when the main motive was to bring back the Buddhist scriptures. Chinese have set their eyes upon the Indian Ocean. Acknowledging its intense importance in the trading affair, Beijing has tightened up its reins to establish its command over the area. For this, it has adopted the strategy of ‘String of Pearls, where it has developed a number of military and civilian seaports in the Indian Ocean region, enabling it to exercise increased maritime influence on the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) within and through the region. The hidden intention behind this tactic might also be the geographic encirclement of India.

Body

It is observed that both countries are racing to increase their influence, reach and capabilities. While China graduated beyond South China Sea to Indian Ocean and west Pacific, India attempts to consolidate its capabilities in the Indian Ocean and enhance influence in South China Sea countries.

In view of this, India has adopted a strategy with the following elements:

Strategy adopted by India to counter Chinese adventurism in the Indian Ocean.

  • Engagement: Strengthening engagement with countries in Chinese neighbourhood, such as Mongolia, ASEAN countries, Japan, etc.
  • Information fusion centre: Recently Indian navy has inaugurated information fusion centre for India Ocean region in order to strengthen maritime security in the region in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
  • Entering into multilateral & bilateral groupings involving China in order to expand the scope of engagement with China and its neighbours. e.g.: SCO, RCEP, ARF, BIMSTEC, East Asia Summit etc.
    • RECP: In order to broaden and deepen the engagement among parties and to enhance parties’ participation in economic development of the region, the leaders of 16 participating countries established the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

 

Diplomatic measures

For India, achieving closer diplomatic and economic relations with the Indian Ocean littoral states and other major powers has assumed added importance

  • Malabar exercise(Japan, India and US) :
    • Trilateral naval exercise, with the United States, Japan, and India as participants, was primarily aimed at promoting interoperability among the navies of the three countries and also to promote all round maritime cooperation among them.
    • China has also been locked up in a long-standing dispute with neighbouring Southeast Asian countries in the South China Sea.
  • SIMBEX(Singapore and India): prepared India how to deal if any skirmishes happen in South China sea or Indian Ocean.
  • India and Indonesia have decided to jointly develop a deep sea port at Sabang in Aceh province, located at the mouth of the Malacca Straits. It obviously has strategic significance for the Indo-Pacific region.
  • India has also been developing the Chabahar Port in Iran. Chabahar provides India access to Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics through Iran.
  • Matala airport in Sri Lanka are counter to Gwadar port in Pakistan and Hambantota port in Sri Lanka.
  • In 2018, India secured naval facilities in Oman, proximate to the Straits of Hormuz, an extremely critical water channel for sea borne traffic. India has also signed a 20-year pact with Seychelles that includes building an airstrip and a jetty.
  • Act East Policy has led to improvement of bilateral relations with a host of ASEAN countries. India and ASEAN nations already have a free trade agreement in place. A pact with Singapore for access to Changi naval base has been signed.
  • Foreign policy innovations such as rejuvenating IOR-ARC, SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region), Project Mausam , Africa-Asia Growth Corridor (AAGC), North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC), Forum for India–Pacific Islands Cooperation etc.
  • Creating new fore to collaborate with partners with similar counter-China concerns. E.g.: J-A-I trilateral etc.

All these strategies helps to Increase the cost of Chinese ventures into Indian Ocean region (IOR) since countries in the region would have alternatives to the Chinese ‘debt-for-diplomacy’ model. And Increase India’s soft power as a ‘benign regional power’

 

Way forward

  • There is also a requirement for India to increase its defence spending. Growth and security of nations have to be simultaneously pursued and resource allocations on both counts are important in shaping its future.
  • The requirement is to speed up its naval forces upgradation, build strong relations with South China Sea countries and win over island states in Indian Ocean. Simultaneously, the quadrilateral of USA, Australia, Japan and India needs better coalescing.
  • A problem that’s creeping in is the increasing trust deficit that most nations are facing when it comes to relations with the US. If this deficit dives any deeper, the big gainers would be the Chinese.

 

Conclusion:

India and China are both dependent on SLOCs through the Indian Ocean for secure energy routes and the free movement of trade to ensure their continued economic development. The potential geostrategic encirclement of India, through a combination of so-called ‘pearl’ ports in the Indian Ocean and China’s de facto alliance with Pakistan, creates a security dilemma for India. To secure itself against this possibility, India must ensure that the choke points in the Indian Ocean region remain open and free, ensuring the conditions for its continued economic growth. To achieve this objective, India needs to develop a range of countermeasures, including enhancing its military capability for sea control in the Indian Ocean and building alliances with willing partners to deal with such a contingency. Continued economic development and internal stability are also prerequisites for the successful execution of India’s strategy to counter China’s expanding influence in the Indian Ocean region. Additionally, India must further develop its ‘Look East’ policy to achieve multilateral cohesion and 5 leverage with Southeast Asian nations and other key stakeholders in the broader Indo-Pacific region. India must also pragmatically develop a closer relationship with the US, which has a common interest in ensuring that the SLOCs in the Indian Ocean remain open and free.

 

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