The Big Picture – Rising Chinese Presence in Indian Ocean
China plans to increase the size of its marine core from about 20,000 to 1 lakh personnel to protect nation’s maritime lifeline and its growing interests overseas. Some of them would be stationed at ports China operates at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa and Gwadar in South-West Pakistan. The expanded Chinese marine corps is part of a wider push to refocus the world’s largest army away from winning a land war based on sheer numbers and towards meeting a range of security scenarios using highly specialized units
What does this reflect?
- This development is reflective of President Xi Jinping’s determination to give China the appropriate maritime/naval footprint in the extended Indian Ocean region. At sea, there would be a need for a major country like China for trade, energy etc to have robust special forces capability.
- If China is committing 46 billion dollars as has been announced for OBOR, they will need these forces to protect themselves in case of any exigencies. This is a long term plan for exigencies that may come up particularly in relation to Gwadar and Balochistan because the other parts of IOR are relatively stable.
- Besides its original missions of a possible war with Taiwan, maritime defence in the East and South China seas, it’s also foreseeable that the PLA Navy’s mission will expand overseas including protection of China’s national security in the Korean peninsula.
- China sees a strategic vacuum in the whole region. US is having its own domestic issues for last 8 years. Chinese saw 2008 as the beginning of decline of US. Chinese don’t have to establish bases in many of South-East Asian countries because they can convince these countries to rely on Chinese economic assistance which US cannot do.
- Malcca dilemma is also a reason for Chinese awareness at such high levels. This term was given by President Hu Jintao(2003) for over-relying on the Malacca Straits(sea-route) where majority of their energy needs(oil imports) passes en-route from the Middle East, Angola etc (shipping lanes) through the Malacca Straits between Malaysia and Indonesia. The area has been prone to piracy sometimes.
Impact on India:
- India has treated Indian Ocean as an ocean of peace and stability. Now that China has decided that it is going to become one of the major global powers and America is also increasing its powers vis-a-vis China, India has reasons to worry because China will come to India’s immediate neighbourhood.
- They know there are lot of terrorist elements there and they cannot depend on the local governments to take care of these terrorists. Therefore, the Chinese are negotiating with the terrorists themselves directly and are also building up their own strengths and requesting the local governments to provide more security to the Chinese personnel working in these areas.
- They are increasing their trading posts all around Indian Ocean and also exploring mineral and oil resources in these areas. India has a competitive and cooperative relationship in many countries of Africa and South East Asia which might get affected due to Chinese presence. India needs to plan its own sea and road linkages with its neighbouring countries.
- India has been a bit slow in sustaining and constructing institutional relations in the Indian Ocean countries. For example: Indian Ocean RIM Association should be a force multiplier for India’s interests and for this, bilateral relations with all countries in this region has to be revived. At present, China is the first or second major trading country with all these countries in the Indian Ocean region and Australia as well.
India needs to concentrate itself on all the vulnerable points it its international relationships. There is a need to gauge China’s intent and for this, a proper high level dialogue with China on defence issues might fetch some results.