Race for strategic places, bases in Indian Ocean region: CDS Gen Bipin Rawat
The presence of more than 120 foreign warships in the Indian Ocean and a race for strategic bases that will gain momentum in future reflects the growing global interest in the region, the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Bipin Rawat, said on Friday.
Rawat’s remarks, made at a virtual conference, came against the backdrop of key European powers such as Germany and France unveiling strategies for the Indo-Pacific and China’s assertive actions across the region that have triggered concerns around the world.
India, he said, will have to build on existing bilateral and multilateral mechanisms, including more training engagements with partner nations, to cope with such challenges while retaining strategic autonomy in decision-making. The country will have to achieve its aspiration of becoming a major global power while living in a “tough neighbourhood” and an “increasingly contested” region, he added.
Delivering the keynote address at the Global Dialogue Security Forum, Rawat said, “At present, there are over 120 warships of extra-regional forces deployed in the Indian Ocean region in support of various missions. Till now the region, by and large, has remained peaceful albeit under contestation.”
He added, “Of late, along with geo-strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific, we are also witnessing a race for strategic places and bases in the Indian Ocean region, which is only going to gain momentum in times to come.”
Based on the challenges India faces as a rising regional power, the country requires structured long-term planning for capacity building and capability development of its defence forces, Rawat told the inaugural session of the event with the theme “Contesting the Indo-Pacific for global domination”.
“In our quest to build a stronger India, we need a peaceful and stable security environment. We need to maintain strategic autonomy and cooperative relations with extra-regional powers, underscored by strong regional linkages that would provide us with a greater degree of strategic leverage,” he added.
Many countries in the region are seeking to gain economic dividends from enhanced connectivity and infrastructure projects and powers within and outside the Indian Ocean region are investing in infrastructure development to “maintain and increase geo-political influence”, Rawat said.
“In recent years, China’s economic and political rise, coupled with competition to increase influence in the region, has attracted a great deal of interest,” he pointed out against the backdrop of the India-China border standoff.
Governance and security too are under threat of being undermined by non-state actors and there is growing naval competition among states, he said, adding, “To protect peace, prosperity and sovereignty, it is important for us to keep sea lines of communication secure at all times with a strong hold on the security dimension of this region.”
Rawat called for building on existing mechanisms such as JAI (Japan-Australia-India) and Asean-India to have the “right balance in our strategic autonomy”, and said, “The economic centre of gravity is shifting and will continue to shift in this century, and with the major global supply chains passing through our region, the Indo-Pacific in general and the Indian Ocean region in particular will remain vital for transit and world trade.”