Patrolling the South China Sea with the US will betray India’s hostility towards China, a powerful neighbour that can change its India policy and potentially create a lot of trouble for New Delhi, a top Chinese expert has warned.
India should focus more on building “harmonious bilateral military relations” with China because of the long-standing border dispute, which it sees as the biggest security challenge, the expert said.
“India needs to develop more friends instead of making more enemies,” Long Xingchun, director of the Centre for Indian Studies at China West Normal University, wrote in the state media.
Long’s piece comes within days of a report that the US and India were discussing possible joint patrols in the South China Sea, where China and several countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan have over-lapping claims on islands.
“Conducting joint naval patrols with Washington in the South China Sea will do nothing but showing its hostility against Beijing and devastate their strategic mutual trust, which will also compel the Chinese government to adopt changes in its India policy,” Long wrote in the Global Times newspaper.
“If New Delhi chooses to follow in the US footsteps, it means the country is taking part in US ‘pivot to Asia’ strategy and adopting a major strategic shift. This move will inevitably divide Asian nations into two camps, further giving rise to regional tensions,” he added.
Long argued that freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is not threatened.
According to Long, “backing the freedom of navigation in the waterway” is only a pseudo-proposition.
“Consequently, navies of non-claimant countries of the South China Sea merely signal that they take a side and provoke China by patrolling in the waters,” he wrote.
On Thursday, Republican Senator John McCain said it was a “very good time” for the US and India to announce that they were “considering” jointly patrolling the South China Sea, a very busy maritime trade route.
China’s reaction to the report on joint patrolling earlier this month was angry and quick. “Countries from outside the area must stop pushing forward the militarisation of the South China Sea, cease endangering the sovereignty and national security of littoral countries in the name of ‘freedom of navigation’ and harming the peace and stability of the region,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei.
Indian and American leaders have stressed the need to protect freedom of navigation in the South China Sea since Beijing began ramping up its military presence in the region. China recently deployed missile batteries and combat jets on an island under its control.
Around 50% of India’s trade passes through the Strait of Malacca, part of the South China Sea. Goods worth more than $5 trillion pass through the maritime channels in the region every year.
But Long contended that the US effort to make India a “vassal state” like Japan and Australia will trigger anger from the Indian public.
India’s interests in the South China Sea are not threatened, he wrote, adding that China is India’s most important neighbour and the “two have embraced booming development in their bilateral economic and trading ties in the last decade”.