Key strategic stand on Indo-China relationship

Article by Anubhav Shankar Goswami

China’s growing influence in South Asia has become an Achilles heel for India. New Delhi and Beijing’s competition for influence in South Asia and neighboring region has become a major source of uncertainty at global level. In every Indian regional relationship, China has emerged either as an active actor or a potential third party. China often uses India’s arch enemy, Pakistan to counter-balance New Delhi in the sub-continent by either augmenting the Islamabad’s military capabilities or by extending potential cover-up at global platforms for her role in using terrorism as State policy to wage a proxy war against India.

Not leaving anything to chance, Beijing knows that just by propping up a failing fundamentalist state against the third biggest economy in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) will not give her the desired strategic results. For good measure, Beijing is attempting a ‘strategic encirclement’ of India through a ‘string of pearl’ strategy – strategic ports for pearls, build and operated by China, across the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) – to cast a shadow on every sea lanes to-and-from India. As such, it is making strategic investments in Maldives (port at Feydhoo Finolhu Island), Sri Lanka (Hembantota port), Pakistan (Gwadar port), Bangladesh (Chittagong) and Jask port in strategic Persian Gulf in Iran.

India imports 70% of its oil and gas energy requirements and depends on free access of sea routes for its trade. Just to give an illustration, 2/3rd of oil imports of India comes from Persian Gulf. If Beijing manages to build a port a Jask, it will be a strategic nightmare for New Delhi. Therefore, India feels compelled to counter China’s growing naval influence and safeguard its maritime interests in IOR. The most important measure that India has taken in this regard is restarting the long dormant QUAD (India, Japan, Australia and United States). Since last one year, QUAD has evolved as the main arrangement/deterrent against Chinese aggression in Indo-Pacific Region (IPR). India has also changed the characteristics of its Act East policy – from integrating India’s economy with South-East Asia and East Asia to also including robust military partnerships within the mandate of Act East that has opened up flurry of defense and security engagements with like-minded nations like Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore. India, after Chabahar port in Iran, has taken over operation of Myanmar’s Sittwe port to counter-balance BRI in IPR. India has also approached Seychelles to convert its Assumption island as an Indian naval base and negotiations are on-going between the two governments to that effect. An Indian naval base at Changi in Singapore has also come up. To ward off Chinese influence in the Persian Gulf, India has secured naval access in Oman, which is close to the strait of Hormuz in Persian Gulf. India has also built a complex surveillance system called National Maritime Domain Awareness (NDMA) that provides 24/7 real time information of activities happening at IOR. A step further, in 2019, the Ministry of External Affairs laid out a holistic vision for IPR called ‘India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative’ (IPOI) and South Block got a shot in the arm when Vietnam in December 2020 agreed to strengthen strategic partnership with India in line with IPOI. Australia and the Philippines have also expressed their willingness to cooperate with New Delhi on the IPOI. Finally, India is invoking historical linkage between 39 littoral countries under project Mausam.

For America, China’s bete noir, all this is welcome news. It shows that India is capable of becoming a net security provider in the IPR. Convinced of India’s importance and indispensability to the region, Washington has struck several defense agreements like BECA (Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement), COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement), LEMOA (Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) etc. with India in recent times to pool each other’s resources together for a united show of force against Beijing.

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