Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday reasserted India’s traditional dominance in the Indian Ocean, even as its navy of late deployed an unusually large number of warships in the region to send out a message to China.
“(The) Indian Ocean has been the center of India’s trade and military prowess for thousands of years,” the Prime Minister said, after launching the submarine Optical Fibre Cable connectivity between Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the mainland.
His comment came even as the Indian Navy of late ramped up deployment of warships by nearly 25% in the Indian Ocean to counter Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy’s bid to expand its footprints in the region.
India moved to display its maritime might amid its continuing military stand-off with China along the disputed boundary between the two nations in eastern Ladakh.
The warships of the Indian Navy’s Eastern and Western Fleets are now patrolling the Bay of Bengal, the Malacca Straits, the Andaman Sea, the southern and the central Indian Ocean region, the Gulf of Aden and the Persian Gulf.
The Indian Navy’s warships INS Rana, INS Sahyadri, INS Shivalik and INS Kamorta last month participated in the “cooperative exercise” with the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, which was on its way to West Asia after conducting a drill with USS Ronald Reagan in the South China Sea. The drill by the two US Navy carriers in the South China Sea as well as the joint exercise by the Indian Navy ships and the USS Nimitz Carrier Strike Group in the Indian Ocean came in the wake of growing belligerence of China – not only along its disputed boundary with India but elsewhere in Indo-Pacific too.
The joint exercise by US and Indian warships closer to Malacca Strait was intended to send out the message to China that the sea lane, which is vital for the communist country, could be choked in case of a conflict in the region.
The Chinese PLA navy deployed its 35th Task Force in Indian Ocean region in late April – just a few days before its soldiers made the first attempt to change the status quo along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) – the de facto boundary between India and China – in Galwan Valley. The PLA Navy also deployed its missile destroyer Taiyan and frigate Jingzhou in the Indian Ocean, as the stand-off between the Indian Army and the Chinese PLA spread to other areas along the LAC in eastern Ladakh.
New Delhi has of late been also worried over reports of China deploying a fleet of underwater drones (Unmanned Underwater Vehicles) in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Navy in September 2019 spotted and chased away China’s research vessel Shiyan 1 in the Exclusive Economic Zone of India near the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The Chinese PLAN also deployed submarines in the Indian Ocean, including Shang class Type 093 nuclear-powered ones. Though Beijing publicly said that the deployment was intended to step up patrols on the sea lanes to protect vessels from pirates, New Delhi has been suspicious about the PLA Navy’s moves in the Indian Ocean region.
The Prime Minister on Monday said that the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and all other islands of India would have important roles to play as New Delhi started pursuing a new strategy for cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region. He said that the Andaman and Nicobar Islands would also play an important role in India’s Act-East policy to step up cooperation with the South East Asian nations.