India playing ‘South China Sea’ card for trade-off on border?


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In the backdrop of India’s decision to restart oil and gas exploration off the Vietnam coast despite objections from Beijing and New Delhi’s Act East policy, a state-run Chinese think tank said that India is playing the ‘South China Sea’ card to force Beijing to make compromises on the border dispute and Pakistan. India’s decision to restart the oil exploration in disputed waters is an attempt by India to play the South China Sea card against China, says Wang Dehua, Director at the Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies, in a commentary published in the state-run newspaper Global Times.

While admitting that New Delhi has its own geopolitical interests in mind, the report said India is showing interest in South China Sea to make Beijing compromise on Pakistan-related issues. Speaking about India’s ‘Look East Policy’, it said India is no longer looking east as it has already acted east, referring to the upgrade in the policy by India from ‘Look East Policy’ to ‘Act East Policy’ under the Modi government.  

US trying to play India against China

The director of the Chinese think tank also charged India with primacy ambitions in the Indian Ocean.  “India not only intends to maintain its primary position in the Indian Ocean, but also aims at wielding more influence in the Pacific. That’s why it is busy preparing for the upcoming Exercise Malabar, a joint naval drill involving the US, Japan and India, in the Indian Ocean in October.” Playing on the familiar refrain in Chinese strategic circles that India is becoming a part of the anti- China alliance, it said the US is creating a wedge between India and China, and stressed that India needs to realise that the US will eventually be India’s biggest competitor in the Indian Ocean.

Therefore, as China is enhancing its relationship with countries within the region, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Maldives, coupled with the recent news that Pakistan will buy eight submarines from China, New Delhi fears that the balance in the Indian Ocean will be disturbed.”

The author contended that India and China should not view each other as competitors but rather focus on developing common interests.

India has not reacted to the report.  India has denied being part of any anti-China containment strategy. India and the US came out with joint strategic vision statement on Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region during President Barack Obama’s visit to India in January 2015. The joint strategic vision stressed on safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, especially in the South China Sea.