INDIA’S ENGAGEMENTS IN THE INDIAN OCEAN
16, May 2019
Prelims level : International Mains level : GS-II Governance, Social Justice and IR
Why in News:
- China’s engagement in the India Ocean Region poses new challenges for India.
- It is high time that India makes strategic partnerships, going beyond the current defensive mindset.
What are the recent exercises by India?
- A series of bilateral exercises with regional navies were conducted in the Indian Ocean.
- In April, 2019 in their biggest and most complex exercise, Indian and Australian warships held drills in the Bay of Bengal.
- This was followed by a much-publicised anti-submarine exercise with the U.S. Navy near Diego Garcia.
- Very recently, the Indian Navy held a joint exercise ‘Varuna’ with the French Navy off the
coast of Goa and Karwar.
- Alongside, two Indian warships participated in a ‘group sail’ with warships from Japan, the
What is the Geo-political drive?
- China – The trigger for India’s increased engagement at sea is the rapid expansion of
- China’s naval footprint in the Indian Ocean.
- China has commercial investments in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
- Beyond this, it has also established a military outpost in Djibouti, a key link in its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
- Reports also suggest that People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was planning an expansion of its
logistics base for non-peacekeeping missions.
- This raises the possibility of an operational overlap with the Indian Navy’s areas of interest. It is anticipated that Djibouti could be a future where China would control key nodes covering important shipping lanes in Indian Ocean.
- This would in turn allow the PLA’s Navy (PLAN) to dominate the security dynamic.
- South Asia – South Asian navies too have been making their presence felt in the seas of the Indian subcontinent.
- Sri Lanka has expanded engagement with Pacific powers which includes the Royal Australian Navy and the U.S. Navy.
- With China’s assistance, Pakistan is becoming an increasingly potent actor in the northern Indian Ocean, a key region of Indian interest.
- Beijing has also been instrumental in strengthening the navies of Bangladesh and Myanmar.
- In these circumstances, India has had little option but to intensify its own naval engagements in South Asia.
What seems to be China’s strategy?
- Submarine – China’s expanding submarine engagements in Indian Ocean indicate its strategic ambitions in India’s neighbourhood.
- Reportedly, PLAN has been studying the operating environment in the Indian Ocean.
- This comes in the context of a larger endeavour to develop capabilities for sustained operations in the Indian Ocean Region.
- As a result, the Indian Navy’s recent bilateral exercises have focussed on under-sea surveillance and anti-submarine warfare.
- Less sightings – Despite the above developments, notably, Chinese submarine sightings are said to have decreased in recent times.
- Also, India is silent on China’s continuing aggression in the South China Sea. Indian warships were sent for the Chinese fleet review in Qingdao.
- All these largely suggest a conciliatory stance.
- China’s strategy – Nevertheless, reduced visibility of Chinese submarines does not necessarily prove absence.
- Chinese submarines are quieter, craftier and stealthier than earlier.
- South Asia focus – China has been downplaying its strategic interests in South Asia.
- It is concerned that too much talk about its growing naval power could prove detrimental to the cause of promoting the BRI.
- The concerns raised at the recent BRI summit, on Chinese ‘debt traps’ has led Beijing to
- revise some of its infrastructure projects.
- India’s refusal to participate in the BRI may have also prompted China to rethink its economic and military strategies in Indian Ocean.
With the Wuhan summit, it is believed that India and China are on a collaborative path.
As suspected, PLAN could be on a quest to master undersea ‘quieting’ technologies.
How is China’s engagement in African region?
- China hasn’t indicated any change of plan in West Asia and the east coast of Africa. Most of China’s energy and resource shipments originate there.
- Chinese investments in port infrastructure in Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania and Mozambique have grown at a steady pace.
- In response, India has moved to deepen its own regional engagement, seeking naval logistical access to French bases in Reunion and Djibouti.
How significant are partnerships now?
- Despite the bilateral and trilateral naval engagements, India hasn’t succeeded in leveraging
- partnerships for strategic gains.
- India’s political leadership is reluctant to militarise the Quadrilateral grouping or to expand naval operations in the Western Pacific.
Consequently, the power-equation with China remains skewed in favour of China.
- Indian Navy’s regional strategy seems to be a mere ‘risk management’ tactic, with limited approach to shape events in littoral-Asia.
- For long, the Indian Navy has played a prominent role in the fight against non-traditional challenges in the Indian Ocean.
- contribution to the counter-piracy mission off the Somalia coast
- humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (including in cyclone-hit Mozambique)
However, a paucity of assets and capacity has forced the Navy to seek partners willing to invest resources in joint security endeavours.
- In all, partnerships are vital to the Indian Navy, especially in deterring Chinese undersea deployments in South Asia.
These include Indian Navy’s –