India’s relationship with China is going through an interesting phase. India seems intent on improving its bilateral relationship with China. At the diplomatic level at least, India is presently keeping an appearance of satisfaction and hope for further burgeoning ties. Diplomatic exchange between the two countries has been the center of attention lately. Officials from both sides have consistently been covered in the media reaffirming confidence in the trajectory of the relationship and warmly receiving the other party’s overtures and statements.
At the same time, it is also important to take notice of China’s growing military and political influence in the region, which is something that has always been a cause for concern for India. India has historically been wary of China’s ‘hegemonic designs’.
According to recent analyses of the relationship, India’s concerns with China’s expanding influence in the maritime domain are growing in value in deciding policy on the future course of Indo-China ties. Speaking with top Navy officials from the US, France, Japan and Australia, Indian Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba, at the Raisina Dialogue, noted that there are presently six to eight Chinese navy warships in the northern part of the Indian Ocean region. He further established that China has added eighty new ships in the last five years to bolster its naval capability and maintained that the Chinese Navy is a force, which he claimed is “here to stay”.
He added, “Also, two years ago the Chinese commissioned their first overseas facility or base in Djibouti. The stated aim of this deployment is to protect their trade which is flowing through this area from piracy. They have deployed submarines for anti-piracy operations which is the most unlikely platform to be used for this role”.
Lanba additionally went on to support the “Quad”. Member countries of the quadrilateral arrangement – the United States, India, Australia, and Japan – are essentially a group of democratic countries advocating a free and open Indo-Pacific for shared peace and prosperity. Lanba supporting the Quad was surprising since New Delhi has generally exercised “strategic caution” in receiving the Quad’s overtures. To a large degree this has been because of the China-dominated narrative the Quad has always upheld.
Lanba said that the Quad comprised of nations committed to honor international rules and agreements. “The Quad would grow with time”, he said.
Lanba also addressed the presence of Chinese submarines in the area. He questioned their usage in expected Chinese anti-piracy operations. In voicing this concern, he echoed the concerns also felt within the Indian Navy, which has on several occasions brought to notice the rate at which Chinese submarines are growing.
According to reports, Cochin Shipyard (CSL) is set to sign contracts worth Rs54bn ($777m) with the Indian Navy for constructing eight Anti-submarine Warfare (ASW) corvettes. The first of the ASW corvettes will be delivered in 42 months, followed by two vessels per year.
The Indian Navy has also launched its Information Fusion Centre (IFC) that will share information on vessels of interest with other friendly nations. IFC functions as a platform where multiple nations can freely exchange non-sensitive information from the maritime domain. IFC is based at the Indian Navy’s Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC) at Gurugram in the National Capital Region.
Seeking to further enhance its military capabilities in the Andaman and Nicobar island territories, India has also opened a new airbase at the archipelago in the Indian Naval Air Station (INAS) Kohasa near Diglipur.
It can be said with certainty that India does indeed hope for stability in its relationship with China. However, at the same time concerns are visibly rising regarding China’s intentions, and the state of maritime security in the Indian Ocean region. It will be interesting to note how India will accommodate its China-related maritime security concerns and the need for a peaceful relationship with China in it ‘China policy’.