India’s perceptions & response vis-à-vis MSRI

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The increasing presence of China in the Indian Ocean Region due to its Maritime Silk Road Initiative and Indian policies in the IOR provide suitable environment to intensify the strategic competition between China and India in the region as India perceives MSRI as a major challenge to its aspirations vis-à-vis Indian Ocean. India is at weak position when it comes to economic strength, nuclear power or conventional military power in the region of Himalayas but in the Indian Ocean Region China is at risk while India has advantage in the region. The geographical position of India in Indian Ocean gives it strategic and military advantages especially it has easy and direct access to its own resources and bases. In present situation of security environment of the Indian Ocean Region, it is hard to conclude that China would be able to defend its SLOCs from Strait of Hormuz to Strait of Malacca. The US and Britain had huge navies during WWII, yet they faced severe problems to defend even shorter SLOCs from German submarines in North Atlantic Ocean. Therefore, the protection of SLOCs in the Indian Ocean would not be an easy task. Although, mantra of encirclement of India is famous and widely spread in community of academicians and researchers in India, but there is also a perspective that India is facing no realistic security threats from China with its increasing naval presence in the Indian Ocean Region. They say that India is in stronger position in Indian Ocean against China. The former Indian Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Mehta said, “The weak area for China today is Indian Ocean. We sit in Indian Ocean and that is a concern for China and they are not happy as it is not so easy for them to come inside.” Delhi understands the strategic value if a threat is created to stop/intercept Chinese SLOCs in the times of emergency. This understanding can be seen in India’s strategies to increase its naval presence in the Indian Ocean Region especially at entrance/exit points of Indian Ocean. In this context, this strategic vulnerability can be an important factor for maintenance of balance of power, between India and China, in the Indian Ocean Region. Indian desire to use this strategic vulnerability as a bargaining chip has resulted into complex strategic relations between India and China in the region. There are several grounds on which doubts emerge about India’s ability to stop Chinese SLOCs: which ship will be interdicted and which will be not, strategic consequences of this blockade, if China responds in the same way. Apart from these questions there are serious concerns in India and China too for the security of their SLOCs in the Indian Ocean Region, therefore, they have justified their strategy to increase naval expenditures. Moreover, both China and India are increasing their naval presence in the Indian Ocean Region to secure their own SLOCs in the region.  As China has been developing maritime infrastructure in the Indian Ocean Region under its MSRI, it has strategic and security implications for India in the region. To meet the challenges emerging from Chinese MSRI, India is also increasing maritime cooperation with countries, in the Indian Ocean Region, which have similar concerns regarding increased Chinese presence in the region. To enhance Indian naval activities, India has been organizing various exercises and joint patrolling in the region. These include joint exercises of India and Singapore named as SIMBEX, PASSEX include India and the US, India and Japan holds JIMEX, IBSAMAR is series of exercises in which India, South Africa and Brazil participated, SLINEX-II include India and Sri Lanka as participants, Coordinated Patrols by India and Indonesia (CORPRAT), India, Japan and the US participate in MALABAR exercises and MILAN exercises include navies from India, Thailand, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Seychelles, Philippines, Myanmar, Maldives, New Zealand, Mauritius, Kenya, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia and Bangladesh.

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