India’s response to China’s expansionist approach in the Indo-Pacific region.

By Kashif Anwar 

The celebration of the 400th anniversary of Admiral Zeng He voyage in the year 2006 and Mahan’s Sea Power being popular in China today, the concept of Sea Power is well reflected by the way China has modernised its PLA Naval fleet. The development was well supported by its historic two-digit economic growth, as it placed China as the second-largest economy in the world. Further, the recent amendment to the Chinese Constitution provided President Xi Jinping to carry forward his Chinese Dream 2050 project. In such a situation, China’s land reclamation project in the Spratlys Island and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea region established Beijing as a de facto regional hegemon. In such a situation, countries being deeply connected under globalization, the development in one region can no longer be read as a single event. To illustrate, the fight against Islamic terrorism or the ongoing Syrian Civil War or recent trade war between the US and China or the infamous Brexit, a country's national interest can’t remain shockproof in the 21st Century.

 

Thus, the question being raised is the intention behind China’s reach being expanded around the globe, and how India as a democratic and responsible state could counter China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific region while ensuring peace and stability remain intact. As the Indo-Pacific region stretches from the West Coast of Africa to the Pacific Ocean Islands, earlier referred to as the Asia-Pacific region. While Beijing being comfortable with the Asia-Pacific narrative, the 2019 Shangri-La Dialogue and 2019 ASEAN Summit acknowledged the Indo-Pacific concept. From International Politics, Affairs and Diplomatic perspective, the Indo-Pacific region isn’t only important from the economics perspective as it has kept the global economic growth stable and prosperous for long it also houses the majority of the world’s population being confined in India and China.

 

In this regard, for a long India and China, the  bilateral relation and the Line of Actual Control (LAC) issue after the 1960s hiccup remain stable and peaceful further. Despite contentious LAC, the trade between both the country has increased exponentially which gave hope for the Indo-Pacific region. In recent time, the border tension has worsened and after the 2017 Doklam, and episode, the recent Ladakh standoff in the Galwan region, such developments could be a consequence of the clash of their maritime interest in the Indo-Pacific region. As under the United Nation Convention of Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), each party has its exclusive economic zone, territorial jurisdiction area and further explain international waters. In this regard, the activities led by China in the East and the South China Sea and under the Maritime Silk Road initiative, Beijing was able to transit the Indian Ocean with ease and has constructed many civil-military fused port and bases in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Djibouti, and other countries to name a few. For India’s interest in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and to keep its hold in the region firm and stable such a Chinese built dual-purpose port has become a major issue and is a major concern and need to be addressed. Development being acknowledged by the Indian government; it has taken initiatives at the national and international level like being part of many multilateral initiatives to ensure the Indo-Pacific region doesn’t become a region of influence of one country (regional hegemon). The recent Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement is one such major development as it makes World further depended on China as it continues to remain the world’s major manufacturing hub. This further effectively negated the need for any war being waged against China and its action by its foes thus ensuring China’s peaceful development and Chinese Dream 2050 remain on track.

 

In such a situation, to ensure China growth remain peaceful and the Indo-Pacific region remain open and accessible to every country, the role of India becomes important vis-à-vis China’s objection and its concerns in the East and the South China Sea. As the relation between India and the ASEAN has remained healthy and productive, India’s shift from its Look East policy to Act East policy reflects their healthy relationship to cater to the current demand and needs of each other. On the other, the ASEAN-China trade which stood around US$ 600 billion, the maritime dispute in the South China Sea has forced ASEAN members to incorporate new partners in their trading relations. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on global economic establishment have provided a heavy jolt to the global economic infrastructure. Under such circumstances, the Indian government is trying to utilize the opportunity being presented at its door. Thus policies are being formulated to increase foreign investment in the country with the scope of new technology being transfer and further transform India as a new manufacturing base of the world; supported by its Make in India initiative. 

 

In conjunction, China’s capabilities in the Indian Ocean region have alarmed the Indian government of their enhanced capabilities. To ensure China doesn’t gain upper-hand in the Indian Ocean and to keep the Indian Ocean’s open and accessible for all, India has invested heavily to scale-up its defence and has signed strategic agreements with many countries. India had further upgraded its Car Nicobar Islands in the Andaman Nicobar Island and has invested in and Sabang Port in Indonesia whose proximity to the Malacca Strait (read Malacca Dilemma) would keep Chinese movement under surveillance. India is working closely with Mauritius and Seychelles to enhance the coast guard infrastructure and has further signed an agreement with France which will provide the Indian Navy to use France’s Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean. The creation of the Information Fusion Centre by India brought maritime domain awareness and has centralized radar information from across the Indian Ocean region. Further, India is also building large radar networks in Sri Lanka, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Bangladesh. In this regard, India’s Project Mausam in nexus with its Sagarmala project along with the QUAD initiative and the Malabar Exercise directed subtly its intention to counter China’s expansionist policy in the Indo-Pacific region. Such development to name a few have only expanded India’s reach from the Westside of the Indian Ocean to the Eastside of the Indian Ocean negating China advantage in the Indian Ocean. From the American perspective, all such development is a good sign that India is becoming a capable partner in the US initiative towards the Indo-Pacific region

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Sources:

Caceres, Sigfrido Burgos. 2014. China's Strategic Interest in the South China Sea: Power and Resources. London and New York: Routledge.

Chen, Shaofeng. 2010. “China’s Self-Extrication from the ‘Malacca Dilemma’ and Implications.” International Journal of China Studies 1(1): 1-24.

http://ics.um.edu.my/images/ics/IJCSV1N1/chen.pdf.

D. Martinson, Ryan. 2018. Echelon Defense: The Role of Sea Power in Chinese Maritime Dispute Strategy. Rhode Island: Naval War College Press.

Times,Global. 2018. "Strong navy steers more balanced, steady rise of China." Global Times. April 13. Accessed January 19, 2021.

http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1097766.shtml.

Rajagopalan, R. (2020, November). Fighting to Balance - China and the purpose of the Indo-US Partnership. Retrieved from Council for Strategic and Defence Research: https://csdronline.org/upload/user/RajeshRajagopalan_FightingtoBalance_CSDR.pdf

D.S. Hooda, L. G. (2020, November). Military Containment of China - A Strategy for India. Retrieved from Council for Strategic and Defence Research: https://csdronline.org/upload/user/DSHooda_Mil-Containment-of-China_CSDR1.pdf

Singh, A. (2020, November). India's China Challenge - In the Indian Ocean and Beyond. Retrieved from Council for Strategic and Defence Research: https://csdronline.org/upload/user/AbhijitSingh_Indias-China-Challenge_CSDR.pdf