‘Flag follows trade,’ Navy chief on China operating in Indian Ocean
With China making efforts to strengthen its presence in the strategic Indian Ocean Region (IOR), Indian Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh on Wednesday said it was hardly surprising that China’s navy was coming and operating in the IOR as Beijing’s energy sources, markets and resources are located to the west.
“As they say, flag follows trade,” Singh said during a discussion on challenges in the Indo-Pacific region at the Raisina Dialogue.
“China’s navy has the wherewithal and intent, and I envisage a continued focus on their growth in the near future. They want to replicate US Navy carrier battle groups but developing carrier air wing will take time,” Singh said, responding to a question on China deploying aircraft carriers.
China currently operates two aircraft carriers --- CV-16 Liaoning and CV-17 Shandong. It is building a third carrier. The US believes that the Chinese footprint in the IOR will grow in the coming years. China is building a third aircraft carrier with a flat deck and its navy will be operating in the Indian Ocean in the coming years, said Admiral Phil Davidson, commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command.
India is keeping tabs on China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea and taking steps to ensure that the Chinese navy doesn’t muscle its way into the Indian Ocean where combat-ready Indian warships are carrying out round-the-clock surveillance for any unusual activity.
The Chinese are undoubtedly in the IOR already, said maritime affairs expert Rear Admiral Sudarshan Shrikhande (retd).
“They have come here (IOR) to stay, play and have a say. Through sustained and overlapping deployments, potentially more bases and partners; China’s multi- dimensional military power with sea power in the lead is something to think about carefully,” Shrikhande said.
Aggressive Chinese naval actions and asymmetric activities undermine the rules- based order and constitute a major challenge, Davidson said. “The Indo-Pacific region is in competition between a closed and authoritarian Beijing vision and the idea of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the US commander said.
Davidson said China sought to exploit the current pandemic with increased military aggression throughout the Indo-Pacific and its intent was to undermine international law and norms.
From carrying out naval drills with like-minded countries to reaching out to states in the IOR, the Indian Navy is focusing on checking China’s rising ambitions in the region and sending out a strong message that Beijing’s power play in South China Sea cannot be replicated in the Indian Ocean.
The navies of India and the US recently concluded multilateral drills in the eastern IOR. France along with the Quad navies of India, the US, Japan and Australia carried out complex maritime drills to enhance interoperability among their navies from April 5 to April 7.
Singh said the Quad started as a consultative grouping and has evolved and grown organically. He said India has a high degree of engagement and interoperability with the navies of the Quad countries.