An increasing number of Chinese submarines venturing into the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) pose a grave danger to India’s security interests, a classified defence ministry document has revealed.
Citing subsurface contact data shared by US forces, the document said at least 22 contacts were recorded with vessels suspected to be Chinese attack submarines patrolling outside Beijing’s territorial waters last year.
It has warned that the “implicit focus” of the Chinese navy appears to be undermining the Indian Navy’s edge “to control highly-sensitive sea lines of communication”.
The document, titled ‘Indian Navy: Perceived Threats to Subsurface Deterrent Capability and Preparedness’, has been prepared by the Integrated Defence Staff whose mandate includes advising the government on developing force levels and capabilities. It predicts intense rivalry between the two navies in the next three years as China ramps up its strategic manoeuvres.
The Gwadar port, seen as the latest example of China’s ‘String of Pearls’ — strategic attempts to surround India with facilities that can be upgraded to naval bases — also has the navy worried. The port, located in southwest Pakistan, is operated by China.
The Chinese navy’s “extended patrols may fully overlap with the Indian Navy’s area of operation,” the document said. The IOR stretches from the Horn of Africa to the Malacca Strait and southwards to the western shores of Australia.
It also cautions against the Chinese navy building up “expeditionary maritime capabilities” in the form of nuclear-powered submarines and area denial weapons (anti-ship ballistic missiles) “with deployment focus in the IOR”.
The document warned that the Dwadar port would “facilitate enormous command and control capability for prospective Chinese presence in the IOR”.
China has set up a network of ports/facilities in Bangladesh (Chittagong), Myanmar (Sittwe and Coco Island), Sri Lanka (Hambantota), Pakistan (Gwadar) and has also secured docking rights in Seychelles, in what some describe as the culmination of the ‘String-of-Pearls’ strategy.
Experts, however, think the strategy is overrated and will not dilute India's influence in the region.
"Converting a port or token port facilities into a naval base is a huge leap. I don't think China can do that," said strategic affairs expert Rear Admiral (retd) Raja Menon. "Also, any country that allows China to do that will risk India's enmity."
Similarly, defence analyst Commodore (retd) Uday Bhaskar said, "The suggestion that China is strangulating India with a 'String of Pearls' is an exaggeration."