Sino-Indian Competition in Indian Ocean

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Strategic consolidation in the maritime domain has become a common trend for both China and India over the past decade. Extending from the Western Indian Ocean to the Western Pacific, Asia’s waters are dotted with naval deployments. While India has made the Indian Ocean one of its strategic priorities, China has initiated a concerted campaign to secure its sovereignty over the waters of the South China Sea and the East China Sea. But as China has expanded its area of naval operations into the Indian Ocean, policymakers in New Delhi have become particularly wary of Beijing’s power projection. As security dynamics between the two nations enter a new phase of discord, it is important to trace the course of their maritime interactions to gain insight into what the future may hold for Asia’s two biggest naval powers. Sino-Indian conflict has historically been restricted to the land domain. However, as both Beijing and New Delhi have opened their economies to global commerce, their dependency on sea-borne trade has exponentially increased. Both have come to realize the importance of naval power in enabling them to secure their sea lines of communication (SLOC), their primary concern being undisrupted energy access from the Middle East. To this end, both nations have outlined ambitious force modernization plans to develop a “blue-water navy” that can operate at longer distances from their homeland for sustained periods of time. As Beijing’s maritime security interests intersect with India’s, there has been a linear escalation in the interactions between the two naval forces, leading to benign competition between them in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). In the likelihood of a situation where Beijing gains an upper hand in the continental realm, strategists in New Delhi might be tempted to implement access-denial measures against Chinese naval assets in the region, to tilt the strategic balance back in India’s favor. While a confrontation along their international border could be isolated, a similar scenario in the maritime domain is likely to have multifaceted implications far beyond New Delhi and Beijing.

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