A MUST FOR SSB CANDIDATE “A POSEIDON MISADVENTURE”
A POSEIDON MISADVENTURE
If Japan and India do not deal with the South China Sea dispute, the issue will be left only to China and the US, writes Brahma Chellaney
China’s recent acknowledgement that it is establishing its first overseas military base in the Indian Oceans rim nation of Djibouti, located on the horn of Africa, represents a transformative moment in its quest for supremacy at sea. With Chinese submarines now making regular foays into India’s maritime backyards right under the nose of its Andaman & Nicobar Command, New Delhi must now face up to a new threat from the south.
China’s growing interest in the Indian Ocean – the bridge between Asia and Europe – draws strength from its aggressive push for dominance in the adjacent South China sea. Without incurring any international costs, it belligerently continues to push its borders far out into international water in a way that no power no has done before, its modus operandi to extend its frontiers in the South China Sea involves creating artificial islands and claiming sovereignty over them and their surrounding waters. In just a little over two years, it has built seven islands in its attempt to annex a strategically crucial corridor through which half of the world’s annual merchant fleet tonnage passes.
For India, still grappling to deal with the trans-Himalayan threat following China’s gobbling up of buffer Tibet, the rice of a Chinese oceanic threat signifies a transformative change in its security calculus. By building military facilities on the disputed Spratly and Parcel islands, China is positioning itself at the mouth of Indian Ocean.
Make no mistake: China’s rapidly growing submarine fleet is suited not for Southeast Asia’s shallow sea basin but for the Indian Ocean’s deep, warm waters. This explains why China is setting up a naval hub in Djibouti, building a naval base at Gwadar, and wanting access in Sri Lanka. China’s consolidation of power in the South China sea will have a direct bearing on India’s interests in its own maritime backyard.
With New Delhi slow to add teeth to its Andaman & Nicobar Command, Beijing is assiduoudly chipping away at India’s natural-geographic advantage. The longer-term strategic risk for India is that China, in partnership with its close ally Pakistan, drone technologies to Pakistan, China has publicized a deal to more than double the size of that country’s submarine force by selling eight subs to it.
The world has been astounded by the speed and scale of China’s creation of islands and military infrastructure in the South China sea. Yet the international response to China’s expansions hasn’t gone beyond rhetoric. For example, the US, even at the risk of handing Beijing a fait accompli, has done little to challenge China’s expanding frontries, focusing its concern just on safeguarding the freedom of navigation through the South China Sea. The US has refused to take sides in the South China Sea in the territorial disputes between China and its neighbors. Asean disunity has also aided Beijing’s aggression.
The South China Sea’s centrality to the international maritime order should induce like-minded states to work closely together to positively shape developments there, including by ensuring that continued unilateralism is not cost-free. In fact, the ‘US-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region’, Signed a year ago, and the Pentagon’s subsequent ‘Asia-Pacific Maritime Strategy’ emphasise greater maritime cooperation among democratic.
If Asean states and regional powers like Japan and India do not evolve a common strategy to deal with the South China Sea dispute within an Asian framework, the issue will be left to China and the US to address through a great-power modus vivendi, sidelining the interests of the smaller disputants.
Failure to evolve a common strategy could create a systemic risk to Asian strategic stability, besides opening the path for China to gain a firm strategic foothold in the Indian Ocean and encircle India.