The Chinese threat in the Indian Ocean Region.

The Indian Ocean Region has 80% of the world’s maritime oil trade. This region also has 13% of the total world trade. It is quite obvious why maritime control of this region is important for an upcoming super power like China. 16.1% of China’s total trade of goods happens through this region. The presence of China in this region is a concern of India’s maritime security.

India’s naval power is quite bleak to counter China in this region. India has only one aircraft carrier and is currently producing another aircraft carrier domestically. China has 360 battle force ships, US has 297 and India has 150 battle force ships in total. This number is expected to increase to 425 battle force ships by 2030 for China and 200 battle force ships by 2027 for India.

Indian navy is alloted 15% of the defence budget. It is quite less when compared to countries like US, China and Australia which spend at least 20–25% of their total budget on their respective navies. Indian Navy has requested 5.2billion$ for 2017–18. However, only 2.9billion$ was alloted in the budget, which is not enough for its capital expenditure. There is a need to increase this spending to counter China. With limited financial resources available and already burgeoning fiscal deficit, it is not possible for government of India to increase its spending anytime soon on Indian Navy. Hence, the Government is resorting to diplomatic means to counter China.

Indian Ocean Region

The Quad countries aim at countering China’s economic and military power. China also understands that the increasing presence of military is seen as an opportunity only in peace time. In wartime, China will put itself in vulnerable situation considering the cooperation between Quad countries and its tussle with US to dominate the world. China is preparing itself to be a maritime superpower by its strategy of String of Pearls.

China’s strategic relationships with island nations in the Indian Ocean Region is a worry to India. China’s intention of creating a network of military and commercial facilities along its sea lines of communications extending from mainland China to Port Sudan worries India. China employs opaque contracts, predatory loan practices and corrupt deals that mire nations into debt trap to benefit itself in its String of Pearls strategy.

China got the contract of lease of Hambantota port for 99 years, as the SriLankan government was not able to pay off 1.1billion$ debt to China. China also established its first naval base in Djibouti. China is also planning to establish its bases in Chittagong and Gwadar(Pakistan). China’s air to sea missile buildups, pushing nations into debt traps and establishing commercial and military bases along the sea line are of concern to India. Increasing dependance of supply chains on China is also a factor that is pushing nations in favour of China.

The strategic islands that are important in China’s strategy are Madagascar, Mauritius and Maldives. There are 19 Chinese official development finance projects in Madagascar. China has recently written off 17million$ of loans and provided an additional interest free loans worth 730million$ for Mauritius. China has also invested 830million$ in Maldives in infrastructure projects in Maldives. These strategic investments in developing countries provides a diplomatic and strategic advantage to China in countering Quad countries.

It is a fact that is hard to accept that the focus is shifting from USA to China. There is no doubt that China has placed itself in a dominant position by using its advantage of abundant economic resources. China is surely there at the right place at the right time. Although India has got military access to Islands such as Diego Garcia and Reunion, neither do we have the military capability nor the financial resources to counter China.

It is important for India to continue maintaining good diplomatic relations and use the democracy card well. Putting diplomatic pressure on China in HongKong and Taiwan issues can help in changing the optics. Optics do matter in lobbying low and middle income nations. Our diplomats need to change their good boy attitude, use their minds and put their eggs in the right baskets and help India in lobbying. It is important for Indian diplomats to learn from Chinese bureaucrats and apply themselves.

The world has gotten an opportunity because of COVID-19. Countries realise the danger of centralised supply chains. It is a necessity for India to be an alternative to China in decentralisation of supply chains. It is also important to relook at the relations with the island nations and strategic ties with them, without letting the world know the geo- political intent. While China will never be at war with India, it’s not good to miss the opportunity to be an alternative to China and set an example for rest of the democratic countries.

Jai Hind!

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Researcher in Public Policy

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