‘High likelihood of China coming into Indian Ocean’

orf-narayananThe governor of West Bengal, Mr M.K. Narayanan, thinks that China has made it clear that it is not going to restrict itself to Western Pacific, and so, there is high likelihood that China will come into the Indian Ocean because of its interest in oil. Therefore, India must also carve out an area of influence for herself.

Mr. Narayanan made these comments while chairing a book discussion on “Samudra Manthan: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific “, authored by Dr. C. Raja Mohan, Head, Strategic Affairs Studies, Observer Research Foundation, at ORF Kolkata Chapter on 27 November.

Mr. Narayanan said the renewal of Chinese nation as pronounced by Chinese President Xi Jinping is a loaded phrase. It hints at the fact that China will protect what it considers as her core national interest.

He felt that the book stood out in identifying vast ocean spaces as the new conflict zone. The author has envisaged not just a role of security provider for India which we have done and have been appreciated for doing but also a much broader role. The broader role lies in addressing cooperation and conflict.

The governor said the need for such book was felt for a long time. It stands at the churning point of India’s strategic thinking when maritime power equation in this part of the world stands materially altered.

He claimed that by 2030 China will occupy a quarter of global merchant fleet. This will require China to flex its muscles to protect this fleet. Countries in the Indian and Pacific Oceans have begun to see ocean as the future. The heightened strategic relevance of countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia reiterates it. Deep sea-bed mining and the import of mineral oil via the seas have garnered reinvigorated attention to maritime issues. Therefore, we are all set for conflict and cooperation.

“Sea has been part and parcel of the Indian history. We have been and are Indo-Pacific. It is not that we never understood seas and oceans but now we have developed economic muscle to address it,” he said.

The governor had reservations with the benign image of the US as depicted in the book not denying the fact that US affects Sino-Indian dynamics in the region. He felt the US is unlikely to play a counter-balancing role despite shared democratic ideas with India.

Earlier speaking about the book, Dr Raja Mohan gave insight into the title and the tale behind the book. The time he spent in China and Singapore after having been in Delhi for over 3 decades, alerted him into the importance of naval capabilities of a nation especially since maritime issues gained primacy over the last five years. Singapore itself has been a product of the interaction between India and China in the modern age. The context was thus set for the two great Asian powers to find themselves in the maritime sphere and this was the main inspiration behind the book. The book Samudra Manthan begins by highlighting the fact that while the context in which relations between India and China operate has changed over the years, the structure of uncertainty and mutual distrust remain quite central.

In recent years, the maritime aspect of the India-China rivalry has reached a new dimension. Both countries were historically ’continentalists’ in their orientation, dealing with land based threats. But for the first time, the seas have become important for both in ways it has never been before. Additionally, maritime commerce has become vital to the two countries. Historically all great nations were maritime powers too. So it is likely that we will witness increase in naval strength of both India and China. All this is mainly because our conception of space is beginning to change and we find that China is increasingly entering into Indian waters and India is going into the Pacific Ocean because seas are interconnected spheres of interaction. More and more friction is therefore bound to happen as spheres of influence expand. So there is something of a security dilemma confronting both countries and this aspect intersects with U.S interests. This is because the US has had a great sway in the Indian as well as the Pacific Ocean. But as these two countries expand their influence their interaction with the US will be interesting to observe. This scenario of the two rising powers relating to the US is now often referred to as a ’trillema.’ In the coming decades, this development is going to gain traction and the book can be seen as the first chapter of an unfolding scenario.

Vice Admiral (Retd.) Bimalendu Guha said that “Samudra Manthan” stands out for its navigational capabilities for staying to the charted course; the author has done it very well in many chapters and in linking them up. The book rightly draws attention to the ’West of Malacca Syndrome of China,’ Guha said. This point to Guha is a self-created easy alibi of China to step out. Guha said he cannot see the Malacca Strait being endangered for shipping or trading in the near future, because there are many nations involved; unless ofcourse there is total global confusion. Guha referred to Admiral of the Soviet fleet Sergei Gorshkov’s book Sea Powering States wherein he articulated the idea of sea power as an instrument of state policy. For Guha, this articulation of Gorshkov stands out even today.

The principal message that the book tries to convey is that the region is Indo-Pacific and not Pacific. The author implicitly suggests India to carve out an area of influence in the Indian Ocean. This is not a new concept but it has neither been pursued actively nor presented in such succinct terms as in Samudra Manthan. He believes that India and China are rivals. Although China implicitly has a healthy respect for India, they are unlikely to consider Indians as co-equals. The main idea is that we have to develop as we have the capability to do so but in the process we will have to compete with other giant powers.

“Samudra Manthan” has very clearly brought out the relationship of China with the island states viz. Madagascar, Seychelles, Mauritius, Maldives and Sri Lanka, Guha said. The amount of visits of Chinese presidents to these islands in the last 6 years in the pretext of actually creating a leadership in East Africa is enormous. People-to-people contact is a new phraseology, but the Indian Navy has always done this. It is not for the lack of intention or lack of academic or scholastic ability, but the lack of resources, that has stalled the development of our Navy. It is not just the warships, submarines or aircrafts of the Indian Navy that need to be strengthened but the merchant fleet.

(The article can also be read at High likelihood of China coming in to Indian Ocean, says Bengal Governor: http://orfonline.org/cms/sites/orfonline/modules/report/ReportDetail.html?cmaid=60122&mmacmaid=60123)

 

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