China is developing infrastructure projects in the Myanmar-Laos-Cambodia-Thailand belt at a huge pace. The pace is high because after the completion of this project it will get extraordinary access to the Indian Ocean Region. With the new rail and road link, China will get easy access to the Indian Ocean via Myanmar.
We know that, as early as the 1990s, China has been increasingly looking towards the sea as a strategic arena vital for its future economic growth and development. In fact, for the first time in history, China's continued economic growth is dependent on maritime access and security of the maritime space.
China has been a net importer of oil since 1993 and China's energy needs and volume of trade continue to expand. Chinese analysts have increasingly come to view secure access to shipping lanes as a necessity for sustained development and growth. Analysts and experts have framed the Chinese various strategic postures in relation to maritime space like in the South China Sea, Western Pacific, and the Indian Ocean.
History of Indian Ocean Region
According to research done by Mansoor Ahmad Lone in the Department of South and Central Asian Studies, Central University of Punjab, in the era of post-globalization and economic growth, the Indian Ocean has risen to very high prominence, and its waters represent a critical battlefield for maritime trade, security, and geopolitics.
The vast reserves of natural resources and international distribution networks have figured this region as one of the precious assets in today's globalized world. These issues and features have changed the very character of the region as the global hot spot of international relations.
Throughout the Indian Ocean history, the IO has been remaining an active theatre for both regional and extra-regional powers in terms of sea voyages for trade, cultural exchanges, people-to-people contacts, and colonial domination. India is the dominant regional power and carries an ancient civilizational legacy of the Indian Ocean.
It is remained an active player in the region and played a pivotal role in the region only because of its historical-civilizational legacy, its geostrategic location, and its past maritime economic trade linkages with West Asia and East Asia.
The extra-regional players included many colonial powers who entertained and contested in the affairs of the IO for colonial interests. Those involved were British, Dutch, Portuguese, French, and Japanese naval forces and the region had been completely subjugated by these colonial elements until World War-II. The post-war period saw the power contest between the US and the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of British and French navies from the region.
It was followed by a sole superpower domination of USA after the breakdown of the Soviet Union. By this time, the region witnessed the rise of India and China as the two Asian powers with fast-growing economies, scientific advancement and overall progress. Thus, a completely new contest and competition were born in the region with each actor striving and seeking their interests of security, stability, and dominant influence in the region.
China's new Sea-Road-Rail Link in the Indian Ocean
China is developing a new trade corridor that will connect the logistics lines of Singapore, Myanmar, and China. It will connect the Indian Ocean with southwest China. It will provide easy access of the Indian Ocean Region to China. Another port in Kyaukphyu will be directly connected with Yunnan (China) via the Railway line. Construction of the road is already started in the Myanmar region, under the 'border economic cooperation zone' plan.
This port will provide new heights to the international trade of China. This trade route may be the alternative to Malacca. Actually, China always has fear of a maritime blockade at the Straits of Malacca. Since most of China's oil imports pass through this region only. Any kind of blockage at Malacca can make a huge impact on China's Economy.
Implications For India
China's increasing attention towards the seas and aggressive postures from time to time that there arise some security concerns for other countries concerned like India in relation to the Indian Ocean. After developing the port at Myanmar, China could increase Naval engagements in the Indian Ocean as well as in the Bay of Bengal area.
Apart from this trade corridor, China is working on China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Not only this, China's new plan of developing the China-Nepal Economic Corridor (CNEC) is in the pipeline. That is to link Tibet to Nepal.
Overall the three economic corridors around India signify the economic as well as strategic rise of China in the Indian subcontinent.
Counter Steps by India
Indian strategists claimed that the plan may further strengthen the already presence of China in the Indian Ocean. The security issues arising in India receive a lukewarm emphasis from academic and expert organizations on the whole.
Developing North-Eastern India
Supply Chain Resilience Initiative
Vast development in Andaman Nicobar Islands.
Chabahar Port in Iran's East.
Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative
Act East Policy
Indian Navy at Maritime Border
The factors worth concerning for India is the Chinese advancement in the Indian Ocean, having secured the use and rights over a number of bases in littoral states like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, Maldives, Djibouti (a permanent military base of China) and the covert support over some sensitive issues where national interests of others like India are put to stake. Further, the plan of the Maritime Silk Road proposed by China are enough evidence for India to increase its vigilance in Indian Ocean Region.
As a result of which, the Indian navy is enhancing its operational capabilities to enlarge its scope for the protection of interests through the use of network-centric warfare capabilities by strengthening the satellite communication network.
The paramount mission of the Indian Navy is to secure India's strategic interests attached to the Indian Ocean along with island territories that will consolidate India's position in terms of economy and strategy.
India's recent initiatives for the proposal of a maritime surveillance networks in various Island countries such as Sri Lanka, Seychelles, and Maldives will enhance monitoring capabilities and Maritime awareness. Aligning and engagement of naval airpower and Navy Coast Guard would help in protecting vital interests such as oil shipping routes ferrying oil from Middle East and Gulf Region.
Expansion and development of naval infrastructure especially the Andaman and Nicobar and the radar network for maritime surveillance will play a deterministic role in India's maritime affairs. This will increase India's operational capability such as the fleet deployments deep into the Ocean. The recent push under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi for the development of many basing posts and the development of other necessary infrastructure will help to mitigate both traditional and non-traditional threats.
Statement of Indian Navy Chief
On the eve of Navy Day 2022, in the backdrop of evolving regional security matrix and China's growing naval prowess, Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar said that the Indian Navy is looking at having a second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) and is set to procure a raft of other platforms including Predator drones from the US to bolster its overall military capability. He said a timeline of 2047 has been set for making the force 'Atmanirbhar' (self-reliant).
On possible challenges from China, he asserted that the Navy keeps a strong vigil over movements of various Chinese military research and fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean Region. Listing initiatives to bolster the Navy's operational prowess. Asked about the procurement of the Predator drones, he said the case for it is under process.
The original proposal was to procure 30 MQ-9B Predator armed drones at a cost of over USD 3 billion to crank up India's surveillance apparatus along the frontier with China as well as in the Indian Ocean region. "The case for the procurement is under process. We are discussing whether the numbers have to be rationalised,"