It is only befitting to dedicate a day for the brave oceanic force of India, the Indian Navy. 4th December is the designated date for celebrating the valour of our Navy personnel, as it was on this day in 1971 that the Indian Navy destroyed four Pakistani Warships as a part of Operation Trident, killing hundreds of Pakistani Navy personnel.
Pakistan is a non-existent entity in the waters surrounding India. The main focus of the Indian Navy, therefore, in these times of maritime supremacy, is containing the influence of China in the Indian Ocean Region. China is a supremacist and expansionist force, to say the least. They have indulged in innumerable misadventures in the region, often stating ‘anti-piracy’ missions as an excuse. While anti-piracy is one of the reasons, the larger game-plan is much larger than often revealed.
China seeks military influence over major maritime chokepoints in the Indian Ocean region, including the Malacca strait through which over 25% of world trade passes. The Malacca strait is also significant for China as it forms perhaps the only passage of oil from the Gulf countries to China. In the event of an escalation of tensions with either India or the United States, this strait would be susceptible to blockade by China’s enemies. Hence, China looks to dominate the region and be the only player while at it. Meanwhile, India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands provide with extensive waters on which India has exclusive rights as per UN Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Recently, a Chinese vessel was found lurking in India’s exclusive economic zone near Port Blair, which was then chased out by the Indian Navy.
The only challenger to China’s much wanted ‘String of Pearls’ strategy is India and the formidable Indian Navy. According to this theory, China is looking to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean Region by raising military or commercial points at strategically located points in order to encircle India and contain Indian influence in the Indian Ocean region. While China and US tensions can escalate to a conflict anytime, the reason would definitely be the South China Sea, and China’s dirty games in those waters, where it is bullying smaller nations like Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia into submission. As such, the Indian Ocean is much of India’s territory to defend.
The Navy Chief, Admiral Karambir Singh has unequivocally stated that they are constantly watching China’s moves in the region, and they are aware of its growing presence.
China is interested in the IOR for both maritime and military dominance, as well as control over the trade route. Militarily, China seeks to encircle India and become an unbeatable force in the IOR, also strengthening China’s position in the Arabian Sea. CPEC, BRI, and other adventures in the Indian Ocean are all a part of a plan to encircle India and become a threat for us. A strengthened Chinese position in the IOR will further keep the United States at bay from indulging in military conflict. However, India is in no mood to facilitate a walkover by the Chinese. Many of the stakeholders of IOR are with India, even as continuous Navy and maritime drills are organized. India is at the forefront of organizing such drills. India has not invited China to a mega international naval exercise ‘Milan’ scheduled next year. 41 nations are expected to take part in the same. When asked as to why China has been kept out of the same, Admiral Karambir Singh stated that the exercise is meant only for ‘like-minded’ nations, and that China is not. This is a big statement in itself.
Meanwhile, China also has massive trade interests in IOR. 80% of global seaborne trade passes through the Indian Ocean. A control over the Indian Ocean would effectively translate into control over global trade. Moreover, keeping in view China’s misadventures in the South China Sea, a confrontation with the US cannot be ruled out. As such, China would be looking at complete domination over the Indian Ocean, so that even in times of direct military conflict, its trade interests through the Indian Ocean remain immune to the consequences of such conflicts.
The Indian Navy however is in no mood to yield to Chinese muscle. For the Chinese to think that they would be given a free welcome in India’s region of influence would be an overestimation on their part, an estimation they are definitely not making. For this very reason, their activities in IOR are surreptitious and often shrouded as mere anti-piracy missions. Yet, the Chinese are fooling none, especially not the Indian Navy.