China to India: Don’t treat Indian Ocean as backyard

Amid scenarios of rivalry and potential conflict of interests between India and China, Beijing has recognized India’s role in stablising Indian Ocean and South Asia region, but cautioned that New Delhi should not regard the Indian Ocean as its backyard.  

“If the Indian side views the Indian Ocean as its backyard, it cannot explain why navies from Russia, the United States, Australia have the right of free navigation in Indian Ocean,” Zhao Yi, senior captain and associate professor of the Institute of Strategy at China’s National Defence University, told a group of Indian journalists in Beijing. “The word backyard is not very appropriate to use for an open sea and international areas of sea,” he added. 

Speaking about India’ growing concerns over Chinese Navy’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean, he said, “I admit geographically speaking India has a special role to play in stabilising Indian Ocean and the South Asian region.” He emphasised that the Indian Ocean region will be the focus and an epicenter of maritime clashes in this century.

Earlier, Beijing had outlined a new military strategy to increase its navy’s duties to “open seas protection”. In seeming pursuit of this strategy, Chinese submarines had visited Sri Lanka and most recently Pakistan.

Zhang Wei, a researcher with the PLA Navy Academic Institute, played down India’s concerns saying that mostly when Chinese submarines visited the Indian Ocean, Beijing diplomatically informed its neighbouring countries, but now there was a need to enhance cooperation in order to build trust at military and government level.

The Indian Ocean has emerged as an area of contention between the two Asian giants, with New Delhi resentful of Chinese forays into what it regards as its turf. The two countries have made a tentative beginning towards launching a maritime dialogue, but the initiative has not registered much progress.

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