India expands presence in Indian Ocean Region, offering military assistance to others to counter China!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal
It seems India has taken serious note of the Chinese expansionist motives and heavy budget for its world’s largest military in readiness. Indian PM Narendra Modi commissioned India’s first ever export warship Barracuda in Mauritius on the island country’s national day on March 12 and it is set to be followed by a bigger orders from countries in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
Indian Premier Narendra Modi, who begins his first ever IOR tour starting in Colombo, would offer island nations in the Indian Ocean a broad range of military and civilian assistance next week in a bid to wrest back some of the influence China has gained by spending billions of dollars in the region. PM Modi will make the pledges during a visit to Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles after decades of neglect by successive Indian governments.
While Indian government has already cleared export of 13 warships to Mauritius, which will be supplied over the next year, a task to “identify” and “support” maritime needs of smaller nations in the IOR is being undertaken so as to counter the Chinese presence in the region.
This forms a strategy in which India is looking at supporting the maritime infrastructure of “friendly” foreign countries. India has set up production lines so that these ships can be produced and offered at competitive prices and in a fixed, time-bound manner to these friendly nations that look for sub-20 metre boats for harbour patrol, 50-60 metre boats for their territorial waters and 80-110 metre boats for their EEZ surveillance. India will maintain the supplied vessels and also deploy Indian personnel in these nations to “look after the supplied assets”.
While the defence ministry has been pushing indigenous defence production under its ‘Make in India’ slogan, some of the recent clearances include two Fast Patrol Vessels (FPVs) and 11 Fast Attack Crafts to Mauritius. These projects are in different stages of execution and total to about Rs 1,200 crore” according to Rear Admiral Shekhar Mittal, New Delhi has also secured orders from Sri Lanka for two Offshore Patrol Vessels and a damage control simulator to Myanmar. GRSE, which has built the $50.8 million Barracuda for Mauritius, is also participating in a global tender to supply two frigates to Philippines. Also in the pipeline is the supply of 10 patrol vessels to Vietnam.
Guided by Asia pivot policy, USA shares India’s concern over Chinese role in South China Sea. Visiting commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Harry Harris, told a group of reporters: “We encourage China to follow international laws,” he said, the USA is also looking at placing “60 per cent of its naval fleet” in the Pacific region by 2020…Right now we have 60 per cent of our sub-surface fleet and 55 per cent of surface ships in the Pacific region… We are sending two ships to Japan and will bring an aircraft carrier in addition to the existing five in the Pacific,” Harris said. The major worry of Americans now is to contain China’s influence in Asia pacific and for this it supports India which also has a similar objective. .
China has built seaports, power plants and highways across the small island nations. Its navy has also made forays into the Indian Ocean, including when submarines docked last year in Sri Lanka, rattling New Delhi, which has an uneasy relationship with Beijing.
New Delhi is hoping to tie the islands into a closer security embrace. “India has a role as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region,” said a defence official involved in preparations for Modi’s trip. “We are providing patrol ships, surveillance radars and ocean mapping for the island states.”
PM Modi’s trip to Sri Lanka will be the first in 28 years by an Indian prime minister.
Indo-Sri Lanka relations have been tensed on account of Tamil problem in SL as India’s Lankan policy is largely decided by the politics in Tamil Nadu and position of Tamils in Lanka. Fishing issue has contaminated the bilateral ties to some extent.
At the top of Modi’s agenda is Sri Lanka, the tear-shaped island off the southern coast of India where a new government, concerned at Beijing’s growing influence, is reviewing infrastructure contracts the previous administration awarded to China. It has also ruled out additional Chinese submarine visits in the near future. Modi is expected to tighten defence and security cooperation and push for final approval for a 500 MW power plant to be built by India’s state-run National Thermal Power Corporation under a 2012 agreement in Trincomalee, a strategic port in eastern Sri Lanka. The two sides were also in talks to upgrade military training, a Sri Lankan government official said.
During the past year, the Indian defence ministry carried out a survey to identify the maritime needs of the island nations and has begun addressing them, the Indian defence official said.
Modi will commission a 1,300-tonne Indian-built patrol vessel in Mauritius, the first of such sales which include fast attack craft under construction in Indian shipyards.
Other nations require similar maritime assistance, according to the Indian defence ministry assessment. Sri Lanka also needs help with fisheries patrols while the Maldives needs assistance with surveillance against piracy as well as the threat of Islamic State supporters finding a sanctuary in the island chain.
Meanwhile, India and Seychelles are expected to sign an agreement on mapping of the waters around the archipelago during Modi’s visit.
At the same time, China is upgrading the Maldives’ international airport after authorities cancelled a deal with an Indian firm in 2012. China has in the past also considered Seychelles as a potential resupply port for navy ships taking part in anti-piracy operations off Africa. Its submarines, one of them nuclear-powered, docked in Sri Lanka on their way to join the anti-piracy operations.
China’s overt military support to the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Seychelles and Mauritius is an issue which has caused enormous anxiety in India.
Expansionist moves by China and India is slowly but steadily creating an India or China dilemma for IOR.
Of course, there isn’t any cold war between these two Asian powers, at least not as yet!