This year China established its first overseas military base in Djibouti, a tiny African nation that’s considered the gateway to the Suez Canal shipping route. The opening of this military facility, which will base up to 10,000 Chinese soldiers, means that Chinese air force will now have the capability to reach throughout much of Africa. It clearly marks a major milestone in the rise of China as a global military power.
In view of Chinese Navy’s growing presence in South East Asia and the Indian Ocean region, Indian Navy has entered into an agreement which allows it to use Singapore’s Changi Naval base for refuelling, restocking and rearming.
The pact allows Indian Navy ships to sail through the disputed South China Sea area or in the eastern waters of the Andaman Sea and not return to India for refuelling or restocking. Earlier, to use the Changi Naval base, a request had to be sent from the Indian Navy to Singapore government through the Defence Ministry and the External Affairs Ministry, a process which would take weeks due to political hurdles.
The agreement would help both the countries to have more participation and activity in the Malacca Straits and the Andaman Sea. Malacca Straits is an important ‘choke-point’ south-east of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal. Indian warships are present 24×7 at the western edge of the strategically vital straits “looking” at ship movement. To secure the Indian Ocean region, India has been ramping up its capabilities by buying newer warships, especially those capable of anti-submarine warfare, helicopters, string of additional radar, surveillance planes and drones, besides submarines.
It must be noted that the Malacca Straits were crucial for China, as it is critical to the transport of natural gas and oil. The US Department of Defence had, in its reports, said that in 2016, approximately 80 per cent of China’s oil imports and 11 per cent of natural gas imports transited the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca.
Singapore’s Defence Minister Dr. Ng Eng Hen, said they would encourage the Indian Navy to visit Changi Naval base more often. And in lieu of Singapore’s favour, the Indian Navy will provide logistical support to Singaporean vessels when they are in Indian waters.
This is the first such military logistics agreement with a country east of Malacca indicating a shift eastwards for the Indian Navy.
Apart from naval cooperation, India and Singapore are also conducting joint air force drills at the Kalaikunda Air Base in West Bengal.