By Maj Gen Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd)
Not only is current day China (PRC) driving its expansionist agenda clubbed with its debt trapping strategy, its predecessor China (ROC), current day limited only to Taiwan and a few other islands, was also expansionist. PRC has broken all records and has already subsumed large No of nations and islands since October 1, 1949.
With the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it has implemented its plan to reach most of the continents and the countries in the world and continues focusing on these despite not being favourable to any of the host nations. It has planned land as well as maritime connectivities extending the old silk route concept and converging both in Europe and beyond.
China is concerned about the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as its bulk energy supplies move through this besides passing through the narrow Malacca strait which can be effectively interfered by the Indian Navy in any conflict scenario. As an alternative, China has been developing CPEC for getting an alternative road axis for movement of its energy resources utilizing Karachi and Gwadar ports. But it has made definite plans not only to checkmate its own vulnerabilities in IOR but encircling India from multiple points to negate our geographic advantage in IOR.
Considering China’s strategic interest, the Indian West Coast is relatively less important as compared to the Indian East Coast. While China aims to negate our West coast edge by utiliaing naval bases in Pakistan and Djibouti created by it, it has made special effort to address our East Coast.
With intimate relationships with Myanmar, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, it is not only ensuring its energy security but plans to checkmate India for Eastward expansion of its influence not only in IOR but also towards its friendly countries in the South East Asian region. Such a blockade by China will negate any future possibility of Indian naval forces to affect conflicts and trade issues in this part of the Indo-Pacific Ocean.
Discussion of this background is essential to understand as to why China has gone in for 99 years lease of Hambantota port on Southern part of Sri Lanka where docking of naval spy ships has become an issue of concern. This venture gives China the ability of deploying its naval resources at Hambantota port and around and in the process, achieves two important aims – one to keep an eye on Indian strategic resources be in space, air, land or in the sea, second – to safeguard its own strategic interests in the IOR.
When Sri Lanka was debt trapped by China and collapsed economically, India extended its helping hand with unprecedented support despite India needing this resource for its own developmental needs. India also succeeded in getting wind energy projects in the Northern portion of Sri Lanka which was initially cornered by China. It was this that India was hoping that Sri Lanka would not allow docking of China spy ship Yuan Wang 5 at Hambantota port once the security concerns were expressed by India as permission of Naval ships are still needed from the Sri Lankan Government. The Sri Lankan government could not dare to deny the permission but it communicated to the Chinese to defer the docking plan. This was probably a balancing act of Sri Lanka between India and China.
China did not heed to the deferring request of Sri Lanka. Already having lost its face the world over due to the visit of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, China was not willing to have another loss of face as it came in the open domain that the docking was being deferred on behest of India as this spy ship could gather inputs about strategic assets of India.
Sri Lanka has finally yielded or has been forced by China to yield. It has allowed the docking of the spy ship at Hambantota port. It is during this time that India has gifted a Dornier aircraft for naval surveillance by Sri Lanka. Had India succeeded in persuading Sri Lanka in not allowing Chinese spy ship Yuan Wang 5 to dock at Hambantota, it could have heralded a new positive twist in the relationship of India and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka, in its current economic issue, is looking towards China to bail her out and the possibility of some close door agreement cannot be ruled out.
While spy ship docketing in Sri Lanka is not a good move for the Indian strategic interests as it appears but one is hopeful that our policy makers would have factored such possibilities in their security calculus from the day Hambantota port was leased to China for 99 years. Substantial economic and military muscles are needed to thwart such activities close to our borders.
The author is a Kargil war veteran and defence analyst. He is a visiting fellow of CLAWS and specialises in neighbouring countries with special focus on China. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets from @chanakyaoracle.
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