China’s Power Projection in the Western Indian Ocean
The People’s Liberation Army Navy’s
(PLAN) together with Indian Navy participated in an operation to free the
Tuvalu-flagged OS 35 bulk carrier in the Gulf of Aden which was part of a anti
piracy operation of Peoples Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) 24th task force. In the
recent past China has shown a marked increase in its naval presence &
activity both covertly & overtly which has exalted India’s concern about
potential military encirclement tactics of PLAN to Scuttle India’s maritime
advancement & interests both from military and commercial point of view.
As a matter of fact both India and China
maintain a much stronger Naval presence in the Indian Ocean but the balance is
now tilting towards China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping inaugurated
in 2013 the strategic – “One belt, one Road” and the “21st Century Maritime
Silk Road” programme that encompasses from the South China Sea across the
Indian Ocean to the Eastern Mediterranean.
This gives clear warning signal to both
India & U.S. regarding China Naval aspirations and its expansionist and
These two initiatives will no doubt help
china to proliferate and augment its economic and maritime interests and
strengthen its navigational capability. Interestingly Chinas 2015 military
strategy white paper clearly outlines that PLAN has chalked an ambitious project to protect its maritime routes and
communication links with a clear cut motive to establish China as a maritime
super power. The white paper in no uncertain terms has reiterated China’s
commitment to participate in anti-piracy Escort missions in the Gulf of Aden
and gradually intensify its role in International peace keeping force and
China’s Naval Expansion in the Western Indian Ocean
Chinese ambition to become a military
superpower transcends the continental boundary which became evidently clear
when PLAN made its first visit to the Western Indian Ocean in 2000 AD with part
anchoring in Tanzania & South Africa in 2002, the PLAN undertook a round
the world cruise with two ships passing through the Suez Canal including a port
halt at Alexandria, Egypt. After a 8 years lull, the PLAN again came in anti
piracy campaign in Gulf of Aden and since then 25 PLAN task force comprising usually
of 2 combat ships have patrolled regularly in the Gulf of Aden. Those ships
have made more than 60 port calls to Algeria, Bahrain, Djibouti, Egypt, India,
Kenya Kuwait, Morocco, Mozambique, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Sri
Though the initial goal of PLAN task
force was to provide protection to Chinese shipping from sporadic attacks by
the pirates in the Gulf region but now its main objective is to safeguard
Chinese security interests in the Gulf region and to provide active naval support
to its commercial liners.
In 2014, China deployed for the first
time a submarine with an anti piracy task force and subsequently a nuclear
powered submarine to the Gulf of Aden operation. China in 2016 started
constructing a permanent logistical facility in Djibouti for the purpose of
providing tactical & logistic support to its anti piracy task force
although majority of Anti Chinese observers view (including Commander of U.S.
African Command) this facility in Djibouti as a military base. In its long term
strategic plan, in the garb of ‘Maritime Detente’ policy China plans to deploy
about 20,000 to 1,00,000 marine corps to protect its maritime interests and to
harness its commercial exploits (marine wealth).
Admiral Harry Harris Jr. Commander of
the U.S. Pacific Command warned that China’s only aircraft carrier – the Liao
ning which has so far been venturing in South China Sea may enter the Indian
Ocean. Although it is short of top operating capacity unlike those of U.S.
Harris has boosted Indian Defence
analysts morale as he has admitted that Indian Navy’s expertise in operating
Aircraft Carriers is superior than that of PLAN.
China is pursuing or rather sceptical
commercial ports construction drive along the rim of Indian ocean in Myanmar,
Pakistan, Srilanka, Djibouti and Tanzania which gives rise to fears and
apprehension about Chinas ultimate objectives which may crystallise in the way
of converting these commercial ports as Military bases.
Though China has very often denied the allegations
of perpetuating Chinese hegemony in Indian ocean through relentless expansion
of its Naval fleet, logistic support to its commercial lines and increasing
vigilance and surveillance activity in west pacific and Indian Ocean but, the
huge investment of 186 million dollars made by state owned COSCO, China’s
largest shipping company to operate and marriage the Suez Canal container
terminal at port Saed and the subsequent investment of 219 million dollar to
construct a quay there and another 1 billion dollars & to build a quay at
At-Adabiya at the Southern Entrance to the Canal are clear indications about
The obvious objective behind such huge
investment is to secure reliable access for Chinese Commercial liners from the
Indian Ocean and Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.
Signing of a 15 year contract with the
International Sea bed Authority to prospect for seabed polymetallic sulphide in
a 10,000 sq. kilometer zone just south of Madagascar confirms China’s growing
desire to become a global super power both in terms of gaining commercial and
strategic stranglehold on major trade routes and oceanic zones.
In the light of prevailing scenario in
the Southern Pacific and Indian Ocean region, it is high time India should
chalk out a long term strategy to tackle the Chinese onslaught which it can do
by forging closer diplomatic and military ties with his close and trusted
friendly nations like U.S., Russia, France and alike and supplementing its
logistic and tactical support also.