The maritime rivalry between India and
China the two most powerful nations in the Asian continent has confirmed a
bitter truth – the territorial dispute is still a constant & persistent
thorn in the Indo-China relations.
This can be seen in the backdrop of the
collapse of relations which was a consequence of the China-India border dispute
which was once confirmed only to the Himalaya region which ultimately led to
Sino-Indian war of 1962.
In the 21st century however
geo-political rivalry between India & China can be seen in the context of
Maritime. Competition between the two nations especially in the Indian Ocean.
Today the Sino-Indian conflict has spilled over the Indian Ocean as Chinese interests
and ambitions have expanded significantly which has marred the contours of
China-India relations in the past.
China has emerged as the world’s leading
nation in trade and commerce displacing United States in 2013.
It also has the fourth largest commercial
fleet and many well developed deep water ports including Shanghai and Shenzen.
So the political compulsions of Chinese
leaders to sustain economic growth is defined by maritime engagement with the
Both Chinese & Indian economy is dependent
on sea borne trade and shipping routes. India has basically a natural maritime
boundary and its 90 percent trade by volume is through sea and 90 percent of
its oil import is carried through the Persian Gulf.
China’s Indian Ocean Compulsion : The Malacca Dilemma, the South China Sea
and China’s rapid venture into Indian Ocean
China’s growing venturesome foray into
the Indian Ocean is triggered by China’s spiraling global economic ambitions
which now transcends geographical boundaries and has spilled over the Indian
reach to vast African resources and its access to Persian gulf oil and
gas and sea-borne trade with Europe depends on the passage of these items
across the Indian ocean.
To reach Chinese ports and its mainland
all of its ships has to pass through strait of Malacca which is a narrow pirate
inflicted waterway and one of the world’s most significant maritime
bottlenecks, as 25 percent of the worlds
traded goods and 25 percent of all sea borne oil pass through Malaccan strait
which has been termed as ‘Mallaccan dilemna’ in terms of China’s growing
ambitions. So China’s willful ambition to become a maritime superpower largely
depends on the safe smooth passage of its ships through the Indian Ocean. China
is trying to offset this Malaccan dilemma by building & consolidating its
military & Industrial infrastructure in the Indian ocean region.
Chinese restructuring and refurbishing
its infrastructure in Indian Ocean region is based on its. ‘One Belt, One Road’
strategy, an initiative to buildup ports, pipelines, roads and railways network
which will connect Eurasia, Africa and Indian Ocean more closely to China which
will ease transport of good and natural resources to & fro from China.
Keeping its strategy in line with its
long term policy of dominating the seas, China is funding a port building
project in Srilanka, building naval base at Diego Garcia and investing 46
billion dollars on the China Pakistan economic corridor which will give a
unhindred access to the Arabian Sea just to the East of the Persian Gulf.
Obviously China’s infrastructure building in the Indian Ocean is not purely for
economic purposes but it has much more wider ramifications’. China’s 2015 white
paper on defence has unequivocally stressed over safeguarding China’s overseas
interest concerning energy & natural resources, strategic sea lines of
communications (SLOCS), besides institutions, personnel and assets abroad, has
become some other pertinent issues. The Chinese hardliner has demanded much
aggressive stance on part of Peoples liberation Army gradually shifting its
focus from offshore waters defence, “to the combination of” “offshore waters
defense” with open seas protection. While the PLA Navy plan has been an
active participant in a multinational anti-piracy operations off the Horn of
Africa, since 2008, signs of a more permanent Indian Ocean presence. In 2016
the PRC began construction on its first overseas military base on Djibouti. In
2017 a PLAN nuclear submarine and military support ship docked in Colombo,
Srilanka, which is definitely an alarm signal for New Delhi. China’s overt
attempt to build an Island in the South China sea should also be viewed in an
Indian ocean perspective.
Therefore taken together with a new
overseas military base in Djibouti. China is effectively building up military
infrastructure at the terminal ends of the Indian Ocean.
A pattern therefore seems to be
emerging, off South China Sea military infrastructure as a base point for PLAN,
patrolling in the Indian Ocean region.
Where on one hand OBOR – related
infrastructure has been used militarily, China is also expanding its Indian
Ocean Naval presence by Proxy, supplying Pakistan with eight diesel electric
submarines and thus giving Indias neighbour naval arsenal and under Sea strike
capability. China’s ambitious Gwadar port project is part of its strategic
alliance partnership with Pakistan and a game plan to corner India in garb of
building a short transit trade route to central Asia and Gulf.
China’s Maritime Process and India’s Naval Resurgence
It is a matter of grave concern that
Indias maritime interests clash with Chinese maritime ambitions because Indias
maritime aspiration encompasses the entire ocean region from the Cape of Good
Hope to Indonesia’s Lombark strait including the straits of Malacca. Both China
and India harbour fears about each others naval capabilities but lately Chinese
are trying to consolidate their naval presence by increasing surveillances of
Indian Naval ports & bases especially in the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean.
It is also building ports in the coastal bays of friendly nations which raises
apprehensions about encircling India by a “String of Pearls”.
On the contrary Chinese Naval experts
fear that India might create more complications to the Perennial Malaccan
Dilemma presented by India’s Andaman & Nicobar Islands just west of Malacca
by fortifying these Islands into a metallic chain which may block the Malaccan
strait and some others experts fear that Andamans could be used as a “strategic
springboard to promote Indias” look East policy or for forward basing to reach
into the South China Sea.
Notwithstanding the alarming Naval
buildup and disconcerting tactics by China, India is planning to build 200 ship
strong Navy by 2027 to counteract China’s colonial ambitions in the Indian
Ocean and is actively coordinating with other major democracies that are
embroiled in maritime disputes due to China’s claim based on historical and
geographical precedents. India & United States started joint Naval exercise
in 2015 which was further upgraded to include Japan as a permanent member.
India & Australia also conducted bilateral naval exercise in 2015.
In the wake of growing Chinese Naval
supremacy and dominating attitude India and the U.S. have established a Joint
Working Group on Aircraft Carrier Technology and India is stated to purchase
Electromagnetic Aircrafts Launch System (EMALS).
As a sequel to Indo-US. Defence
co-operation, India and the U.S. have chalked out a defence cooperation
programme on Anti-submarine warfare and have signed a logistics Exchange
Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) which will facilitate India & U.S. to use
each others military facilities for supply and repairs. These two countries
have issued a vision statement reaffirming their commitment safeguarding maritime
security and ensuring freedom of Navigation especially in the South China Sea.”
India in order to achieve its global
aspirations as a naval power has gone ahead of the US-Japan India Trilateral
front and has intensified its Naval outreach in South East Asia also.
It has carried joint naval exercises
with Indonesia, France & Oman in the recent past to upgrade its defence
preparedness to the next level. India is also trying to enhance its maritime
security outreach in the Indian ocean by propping its Naval Combat power and
surveillance capabilities Modi’s recent visit to Seychelles, Mauritius and
Srilanks in 2015 is part of India’s initiative and drive to augment its
maritime surveillance and offshore Naval security by installing RADAR stations
in these Indian Ocean Island Nations.
It is a matter of consolation, that
Chinese geopolitical challenge is falling apart of what it visualise as
encirclement or containment by both foreign militaries and by geographic
As China is economically dependent on
global sea-borne trade and has worldwide stake in maritime biological resources
and unexplored marine wealth, its intensive urge power is but natural to
comprehend. US taking cognisance of the Chinese navy’s proliferation and
penetration bid which threatens US Navy in the West Pacific region has
calatysed the US defence and policy makers to take counter measures to hasten
and halt China’s Naval advance close to West Pacific region. India taking clue
to hectic development need to modernise their fleet and equipments to stop the