The increasing presence and activities of the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean Region remains a matter of concern and discussion for Indian policy makers and security experts.
In the year 2020, there was a situation of tension between the two countries after the military clash in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh. The border dispute has been going on between India and China for a long time. This has deepened even more in the last three years.
According to security experts, this tension is also being felt in the Indian Ocean because both the countries want to establish their dominance in this area.
Over the past few decades, China has rapidly modernized its naval capabilities. The Chinese Navy has included a large number of aircraft carriers, surface warships and military submarines in its fleet.
Increase in size of Chinese navy: Jaishankar
Recently, India’s Foreign Minister Jaishankar said, “If we look at the last 20-25 years, there has been a continuous increase in Chinese naval presence and activity in the Indian Ocean. There has been a very rapid increase in the size of the Chinese Navy. So when you If there is a very large navy nearby, it will be visible somewhere in terms of its deployment as well.”
Referring to Chinese port activities, Jaishankar also talked about Gwadar and Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port and also targeted the previous governments.
He said, “In many cases I would say looking back, the governments at that time, the policy makers at that time, probably underestimated the importance of this and how these ports could work in the future. Every one, “A little bit unique in a way and we obviously look at many of them very carefully for what impact they might have on our security.”
Jaishankar also said that from the Indian perspective, it is right for India to prepare for a much larger Chinese presence than before.
‘String of Pearls’ Strategy
The strategy that China seems to be developing in the Indian Ocean is known as “String of Pearls”.
This strategy involves building and securing strategic ports and infrastructure in countries around the Indian Ocean that can be used for military purposes if needed.
These “pearls” are believed to be built to help China build strategic relationships with a number of countries on sea routes from the Middle East to the South China Sea to protect its energy interests and security objectives.
China is building ports in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa and Gwadar in Pakistan. Besides, it has taken Hambantota, Sri Lanka on a 99-year lease. These ports are helpful to China in increasing its naval reach and influence in the Indian Ocean region.
‘China is a permanent challenge’
Defense expert C Uday Bhaskar is a retired commodore of the Indian Navy. Nowadays he is the director of Delhi-based Society for Policy Studies.
We asked him how much danger India faces from the increasing presence of China’s Navy in the Indian Ocean.
To this he said, “More than a threat, I would say it is a permanent challenge. The fact that China now has the ability to maintain a presence in the Indian Ocean region, through the deployment of platforms and the creation of infrastructure rapidly.” “It is visible. China has a very strong maritime presence which is growing, of which the navy is an important component.”
Uday Bhaskar says that having navies and maritime infrastructure is one thing.
He says, “We have to be more concerned about the intent, what they will do with it? Will they deploy or use these things in a way that will be harmful to India’s interests? India has to monitor these very carefully. will be.”
So what is China’s intention? Uday Bhaskar says that the intention is clear, “China always wants to maintain its strong presence in the Indian Ocean.”
How big a threat is the Chinese Navy?
Amidst China’s increasing naval influence, the big question is that how big a threat is the Chinese Navy to India and where does the Indian Navy stand in comparison to it?
Uday Bhaskar says that the capability of the Indian Navy is modest at present.
He says, “Achieving naval capability is a very slow and progressive process. Just acquiring a couple of aircraft carriers is not enough. Underwater capabilities, aerial surveillance…it’s a broad spectrum. So just one platform is not the answer.”
Vice Admiral Anup Singh, former Commander-in-Chief of India’s Eastern Naval Command, is a retired Indian Navy officer.
He says, “It does not matter that China has a navy of 500 ships. It still has a lot to do in delivering supplies at sea and inculcating professionalism among its people, especially sailors. Ultimately what counts is the number of missiles available. “But it’s about the professionalism of your navy and the logistics support. Logistic support is very important in the Indian Ocean.”
Vice Admiral Anup Singh says that China has built a large number of expeditionary ships, but as far as the auxiliary ships of the fleet carrying oil, ration, water, marine workshops are concerned, they do not have all that.
He says, “Even though India’s Navy has 138 ships, our rate of decommissioning is much higher than the induction of new ships, but we still have the largest number of ships as a peninsular nation. advantage that gives India a great advantage in controlling and dominating the seas around her.”
‘It is impossible to escape from the attention of the Indian Navy’
According to Vice Admiral Anoop Singh, there is nothing in the Indian Ocean region that can escape the attention of the Indian Navy, even if it is submarines.
They say that it is clearly stated in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that if a submarine crosses a strait, it will do so only by coming to the surface of the water. But the Chinese don’t do this but we figure them out. We never leave anything to chance.”
According to Anup Singh, “China has got a chance to establish a foothold in Djibouti, in the future they can also come to Gwadar but they are still far away from peninsular India.”
He also says that since many sailors deployed in the Chinese Navy are recruited under compulsory service, this is a major reason for their being less professional.
“Only their senior sailors, who are very few on any ship, are somewhat professional,” he says.
Concerns about spying
Last year in the month of August, a Chinese naval ship named Yuan Wang 5 reached Hambantota port in Sri Lanka and remained there for about a week.
At that time, China had said that this ship had stopped in Hambantota to supply essential commodities and the kind of work related to marine scientific research done by this ship is according to international law.
At that time, concerns were raised in India that it was a “spy ship” whose job was to spy on other countries. The question also arose whether Yuan Wang 5’s seven-day stay at Hambantota port would give the ship a chance to spy from close to India, which could put India’s security interests in danger.
The major reason for India’s concern was that the distance from Hambantota to Chennai, Kochi and Visakhapatnam ports is only about 900 to 1500 kilometers. Besides, Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, which provides launch base infrastructure for the Indian space programme, is also at a distance of about 1100 kilometres.
As the numbers and activities of the Chinese Navy seem to be increasing in the Indian Ocean region, the possibility of espionage is becoming a big concern for countries like India.
C Uday Bhaskar explains that there is a very fine line between research and espionage. He also adds, “All of these could also be classified as legitimate research activities that are permitted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). So this is a gray area. Countries whose They all have the capability to do this kind of monitoring.”