The Indian Navy has stepped up surveillance and activities in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which, it believes, China will “inevitably” try to enter in its quest to become a global power, just as it has laid claim to large portions of the disputed South China Sea, according to a top officer aware of the developments.
It is to deal with this scenario that India reached out to neighbours in IOR — Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles and Madagascar, to prevent China from expanding its footprint in the region by creating more bases — and like-minded navies, such as those of the United States and Japan, over the last two months, he added.
“It is inevitable that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) will come to IOR if China wants to become a global power. They are opening multiple routes to the Indian Ocean to overcome the Malacca Dilemma (China’s strategic weakness),” the officer said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The comments come at a time when there are heightened military tensions in eastern Ladakh — where Indian and Chinese forces are locked in a tense border confrontation and disengagement along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) has turned out to be a challenging process — and China is militarising the South China Sea.
Sources said the development comes as the Indian military is preparing to respond to Chinese aggression in a joint manner keeping in mind the possible collusion of China and Pakistan.
“India has reacted in all domains to counter China and to tell her that what she has done is unacceptable. This involves the Army, Navy, Air Force, diplomacy and even economics,” a top government official said.
China has always been concerned about India possibly blocking the Malacca Strait through which 80% of the Chinese goods travel by sea, including petroleum, media reported.
Sources said that the Indian Navy has not spotted any “alarming” movement by the Chinese PLA Navy so far.
The Malacca Dilemma refers to China’s apprehension of major naval powers controlling the Malacca Strait between Malaysia and Indonesia and interdicting vital supply lines. A significant volume (more than 80%) of China’s oil imports pass through the strait connecting the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.
The multiple routes that China could be looking at to enter the Indian Ocean are further south of Malacca and include the Sunda, Lombok, Ombai and Wetar straits, said a second Indian Navy officer who asked not to be named.
The India-US exercise involving eight Indian and US warships took place a week ago at a time when tensions have mounted over China’s activities in South China Sea, where the US Navy recently conducted a major exercise that involved two carrier strike groups.
From carrying out naval drills with like-minded countries to reaching out to states in the Indian Ocean region, the Indian Navy is focusing on checking China’s rising ambitions in the region and sending out a strong message that Beijing’s power play in South China Sea cannot be replicated in the Indian Ocean.
“China is claiming almost 90% of the South China Sea. We don’t want that scenario unfolding in the Indian Ocean. We will not allow China to have it easy coming here,” said the second officer.
Indian warships are deployed from as far as the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Strait and northern Bay of Bengal to the southeast coast of Africa.
While the Indian Navy is keeping a sharp eye on the Indian Ocean, it is also playing a key role in the Ladakh sector. The navy’s P-8I maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, imported from the US, are being used for surveillance of the Ladakh sector and gathering intelligence on Chinese deployments across the contested LAC.
The primary role of the P-8Is encompasses carrying out anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance of the oceans.