Reaffirming its commitment to be the net security provider in the Indian Ocean Region, India has dispatched INS Vikramaditya, the Navy’s largest and newest aircraft carrier, to Male, Maldives. The warship is accompanied by destroyer INS Mysore and tanker INS Deepak.
The goodwill visit of INS Vikramaditya to Male falls under India’s overall policy to shape a favourable maritime environment in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) with both presence and engagement.
INS Vikramaditya had earlier made its first ever foreign port call on January 21 at Colombo where Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena visited the warship.
Defence experts see this move as a measure by Indian Navy to thwart the Chinese from making any strategic in-roads into the IOR. For long, India has been looking to counter the Chinese aggression in the IOR as it views it as its own backyard.
Despite India’s concerns, a Chinese naval spokesperson had earlier said that China had no strategic design to confront India in the Indian Ocean. The official said China was neither a hegemon nor a significant military power in the Indian Ocean and that its ship and submarine visits to countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka were no threat to Indian security interests.
However, Indian defence experts remain unconvinced as Chinese submarine docking at Karachi, came as a shocking surprise for India’s security establishment. This was the third Chinese submarine deployment in the IOR in a little over a year. Not surprisingly, this fueled the speculation of a possible Chinese basing facilities in the Indian Ocean.
What’s more worrying to the Indian side is the rise in PLA-N (People’s Liberation Army – Navy) undersea deployments over the recent period which means that it is now thinking strategically about the Indian Ocean.
In September 2014, a PLA-N Song-class conventional submarine along with Changxing Dao, a Type 925 submarine support ship, visited Colombo port, docking at a harbour controlled by a Chinese company. A few weeks later, a submarine (presumably the same submarine) and the Changxing Dao were again docked in Colombo harbor. It surprised Indian officials since it was predicted that Chinese submarines would first dock in Pakistan.
These developments generated a public narrative of a rising “China Threat,” particularly at sea. However, Chinese scholars have argued that the PLAN is in the Indian Ocean for safeguarding national interests and performing its international duties as well as to “ensure freedom of navigation, a fundamental principle of international law.”
Though China’s priority will always be on protecting its energy security interests, by way of securing the Sea Lanes of Communications, spreading from the Gulf to the South China Sea, for India a proactive policy is the need of the hour in order to establish its position as a responsible global power, right signals of which has been shown by the Narendra Modi-led NDA government.