Chinese Presence in the Indian Ocean

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    In News

    • Recently, China’s top development aid agency convened the first “China-Indian Ocean Region Forum” in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming.

    Key Points

    • About: 
      • The meet is organised by the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) 
      • It is the latest Chinese initiative focusing on the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
      • Such moves underline Beijing’s growing strategic interests in a region where its economic footprint has been deepening.
    • Theme: 
      • Shared Development: Theory and Practice from the Perspective of the Blue Economy.
    • China on India’s position in this:
      • India, as a major country in the Indian Ocean region, was invited to this forum
      • China looks forward to meeting India at the next forum”. 
    • India’s stand:
      • India has viewed China’s recent moves in the region warily, including the recent visit of a Chinese military tracking vessel, the Yuan Wang 5, to Sri Lanka. 
      • India sees the IORA as an already established platform for the region, which has 23 members, including Australia and Maldives with 10 dialogue partners which include China, Japan, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.

    China Indian Ocean Region Forum

    • About: 
      • It is headed by the former Vice Foreign Minister of China.
    • Jointly Held: 
      • The forum was “the first high-level official development cooperation forum jointly held by China and countries in the Indian Ocean Region
      • Over 100 participants, including senior officials from 19 countries bordering the Indian Ocean attended. 
    • China’s Proposal:
      • To establish a marine disaster prevention and mitigation cooperation mechanism between China and countries in the Indian Ocean region
    • Other country’s proposal:
      • To strengthen policy coordination, 
      • Deepen development cooperation, 
      • Increase resilience to shocks and disasters, 
      • Enhance relevant countries’ capacity to obtain economic benefits through use of marine resources such as fisheries, renewable energy, tourism, and shipping in a sustainable way.
    • Supporting Countries:
      • 19 countries: Indonesia, Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran, Oman, South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, Djibouti, and Australia.
      • But at least two of those countries, Australia and Maldives, subsequently released statements rebutting the claim, emphasising that they did not participate officially. 

    China’s Plans for the IOR

    • China’s prominent role in global supply chains, the vast resource base of the Indian Ocean, and the passage of strategic sea lines of communication through the IOR.
    • Earlier, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, during a visit to Sri Lanka, proposed creating a forum “on the development of Indian Ocean island countries” to “build consensus and synergy, and promote common development”.
    • China is establishing a more frequent military presence in the waters of the IOR. Beijing’s first ever overseas military facility was set up in Djibouti near the Horn of Africa.
    • Chinese military planners have previously said the PLA Navy, which earlier this year launched its third aircraft carrier, has a long-term plan to deploy six aircraft carriers to secure China’s maritime interests, and that two of them will be based in the Indian Ocean Region.

    Issues

    • China’s initiation of a new forum for IOR countries despite the other successfully established forums is worrisome.
    • China has been relentlessly trying to ramp up political, economic and security inroads in the region despite being geographically far from IOR.
    • Apparently aimed at countering India’s strong influence in the region.
    • China has often been accused of engaging in “debt diplomacy”.

    Way Ahead

    • India has a central role in the region and for regional actors. Thus,  IOR countries should not ignore India’s strategic interests and concerns.
    • India’s importance in the region can not be marginalised as there is a growing trust deficit when it comes to China.

    Source: TH