It is feared that with its inherently expansionist naval ambitions, China might whistle up a storm in the Ocean. India maritime is not a weak power when it comes to preserving its territorial integrity. In order to avoid escalation in the case of border disputes with its neighbors, India will certainly not build golden bridges.
The Mutual Logistics Support Agreement that India has with Australia is the latest in a series of deals that India maritime has been inking with friendly countries to counter China’s expansionist designs and tactics in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR.) These agreements are force multipliers for the Indian Navy and allow the country’s naval ships to operate far beyond the country’s shores.
Countering the String of Pearls
According to an analysis by The Center for Advanced China Research (CACR), in 2004, U.S. defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) coined the term “String of Pearls” in a report submitted to the Office of Net Assessment at the U.S. Department of Defense to describe China’s strategy in the waters stretching south of the Eurasian continent. While the report, “Energy Futures in Asia,” is not publicly available, those with access have consistently cited one line:
“China is building strategic relationships along the sea lanes from the Middle East to the South China Sea in ways that suggest defensive and offensive positioning to protect China’s energy interests, but also to serve broad security objectives.”
Speaking to The Wonk, Brigadier (Retd.) Sandeep Thapar said, “The String of Pearls is an old strategy. We are countering this Chinese strategy. Our main focus has been diplomatic reach out to other countries. The way we maintain cordial relations with other countries like Maldives, Bangladesh, U.S, etc. China also has vulnerabilities which the world can exploit. We are already part of the quadrilateral: U.S, India, Australia, and Japan. The String of Pearls has been in the past in some ways, as we have a better counter plan for that. India maritime is sending out a message to China that we can count you as and when needed.”
Vice Admiral (Retd.) A.K Singh spoke to The Wonk and said, “It is true that China has made a significant investment in its maritime infrastructure which it can potentially use for offensive and defensive measures to secure its sea lane of communication.”
“China is strategically influencing its neighbourhood, which might act as a constraint for India. The influence has a strategic impact. Other than the security aspect, it is the competitive struggle for influence which is more challenging. China also has its own vulnerabilities and insecurities, and it is attempting to address its own insecurities, but in some ways, it is creating a security dilemma for other nations as well.”
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue
The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD, also known as the Quad) is an informal strategic forum between the United States, Japan, Australia and India that is maintained by semi-regular summits, information exchanges and military drills between member countries. In 2017, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said that “these visions and proposals should be open and inclusive.”
In a 2019 Quad meeting in Bangkok, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo described one of the purposes of the quadrilateral as restraining China. He said, “We’ve reconvened ‘the Quad’ – the security talks between Japan, Australia, India and the United States that had been dormant for nine years,” Pompeo said in a Washington, D.C., policy address. “This will prove very important in the efforts ahead, ensuring that China retains only its proper place in the world.”
Vice Admiral A.K Singh added, “China is the largest trading partner for many countries, but its assertive behaviour is enhancing the security dilemma for others. Australia believes that China is progressively influencing Australia’s domestic politics. Australia says that it feels coerced by China and therefore the former is trying to eliminate. Progressively, various nations have decided to come together and develop an approach to engage China and influence their behavioural aberrations. On the discussions relating to the formation of a ‘Quad’ (India, Australia, The United States and Japan), China has on numerous occasions shown its apprehensions. Initially, the Quad was a diplomatic consulting mechanism, now it is being translated into a sort of military alignment.”
By Kunjan Ahluwalia