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Sairam asked: How the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean region is detrimental to India’s interests?

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  • S.S. Parmar replies: The Indian Ocean is the conduit for Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) flowing from east to west and vice versa. Therefore, the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean Region could be seen stemming mainly from their interest in advancing their economic engagements and ensuring safety of their maritime trade, especially oil.

    China’s engagement of Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and most recently Seychelles is based mainly on infrastructure development and enhancement of diplomatic ties, thereby availing of the facilities available for extending what could be called its “Look West Policy.” Recent political events in Myanmar and the US engagement could however dilute the Chinese influence there. However, the implications of Chinese engagements in the IOR are tremendous and require to be viewed through multiple prisms ranging from the strategic to economic to military balancing. The military balancing aspect is not considered an area of immediate concern and would be driven by the Chinese capability to maintain a sustained military, especially naval, presence in the region.

    Whether the Chinese presence is detrimental to India’s interests, especially to what extent, is a debatable issue. Although a matter of concern, it should be viewed in the backdrop of India’s current standing as a stabilising factor in the security dynamics of the region. Although China’s actions are within the ambit of international law and relations, a fact acknowledged by the Indian defence minster, India should look at a policy that would ensure that its relations and investments with the nations in terms of goodwill and trust earned, its defence diplomacy and economics, are not reduced by the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean.