by Col (R) Muhammad Hanif

The Indian Ocean is the third largest ocean in the world, extending from South East Asia to Australia and the Red Sea. For the last six decades the Indian Ocean and the IOR have gained greater commercial and strategic significance for the whole world as a trade and energy, transportation route, especially for the major Asian economies, like China, Japan, India, ASEAN countries, South Korea and the US. About two-third of the seaborne trade in oil, 50 percent of the world’s seaborne container traffic and one-third of the world’s seaborne bulk cargo passes through the Indian Ocean.

In view of the piracy incidents in the seas and some terrorist activities from some of the unstable IOR states, where terrorists can hide, states are concerned about the security of their ships and goods passing through the Indian Ocean. Hence, to ensure the free and safe flow of their ships/trade in the Indian Ocean, almost all the major powers of the world are interested to enhance their reach in the Indian Ocean, and this competition is turning into strategic rivalries.

India is busy in making alliances with the regional and extra-regional countries to limit China’s increasing commercial influence and military capabilities having a presence in the IOR

According to a book titled “China’s Expanding Military Maritime Footprints in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), India’s Response” written by an Indian writer, Gopal Suri, with a ‘Foreword’ written by Gen. NC Vij, former Chief of Army Staff, India, published in July 2017, China’s economic growth has been fuelled by energy supplies from the Middle East and trade passing through the Indian Ocean, which will remain so in the foreseeable future. Therefore, China considers Indian Ocean as a lifeline to its energy supplies and international trade that are necessary for maintaining its high economic growth.

In the words of Gopal Suri, “China sees the IOR as its ground of strategic domination in which its economic relationships are sought to be articulated based on its military power projection. Accordingly, militarisation of the Indian Ocean has assumed top priority in China’s political and economic road map towards its achievement of global power status. Obviously, in so doing, it has adopted active methods to usurp the ‘control position’ in the Indian Ocean”.

In this context, in the ‘Foreward’ of the above stated book, Gen. NC Vij, writes, “India’s geographically ordained ‘control position’ in the IOR makes China see it as a rival and an obstacle to its hegemonic goals. The result is that China has featured the Indian Ocean as its military ‘beat’ which, combined with its intended military bases all around the Indian Peninsula, would isolate India from its traditional neighbourhood bondages”.

Therefore, the Indian decision makers think that China’s entry into the Indian Ocean region, through economic investments, political influence, and military presence along the Maritime Silk Road (part of the BRI) has significantly altered regional dynamics. China’s ties with regional states have deepened, through investments in the infrastructure projects in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. China’s acquisition of strategically located deep water ports in Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Maldives could eventually serve a military purpose, which they consider a threat to India.

According to the Indian writers, the IOR is central to India’s national interests and any inimical influence in the IOR can lead to a compromise of these interests. Increasing Chinese economic and military influence in the IOR, needless to say, can imperil India’s influence and thereby its own existence. India can therefore ill afford the increasing Chinese influence in the IOR.

In view of this, India is busy in making alliances with the regional and extra-regional countries to limit China’s increasing commercial influence and military capabilities having a presence in the IOR. India is now part of USA’s Indo-Pacific policy aimed at containing China, although India’s primary aim of joining, this is to become a major world power by acquiring the US investments and military equipment, weapons and technology. India is also a part of the quadrangle comprising the US, Japan, India and Australia. It also shares maritime security arrangements with Sri Lanka, Maldives, Indonesia and Singapore to limit China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

India, now being the USA’s close defence partner is also acquiring the most modern long range weapon systems like aircraft, helicopters, air defence systems, ships, submarines and missiles from the US, France, Russia and Japan to enhance its military’s fighting capabilities, including Navy’s surveillance and warfare capabilities. India is also supporting IOR states to enhance their economic and military capabilities. The recent deployment of 6xSU30 at Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu, just 65 miles from the international maritime boundary between India and Sri Lanka seems to be part of countering China’s threat in the Indian Ocean region.

Of course, acquiring of high tech weapon systems by India from the US and other countries on the pretext of containing China, is a matter of concern for Pakistan, as despite being a close defence partner of the US, India still may not dare to fight a war with China on the US behest, and its modern weapon systems will be used against Pakistan in any future war, for which Pakistan needs to prepare.