The Indian Navy’s international fleet review, held off the Andhra Pradesh coast and featuring 75 warships plus 24 international warships, sent out a loud message. The force is moving beyond its initial role of protecting coastal waters to expand its role as a world-class blue-water navy.
Already, India’s ‘Look East’ policy is gaining ground with Narendra Modi’s government upgrading it to ‘Act East.’
India has viewed with caution China’s growing naval presence in the Indian Ocean, and its large investments in ports in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. India’s policy has been led in part by a balancing act with China, and a desire for a greater international role following its economic growth.
In recent years, India’s readiness to play a bigger regional strategic role has expanded maritime relations with Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. Maritime cooperation emerged as a significant priority area of cooperation at the East Asia Summit last November.
‘We are seeking a more cooperative and integrated future for the region through overall development of the ocean-based blue economy,’ said Anil Wadhwa, Secretary (East) of the Ministry of External Affairs. ‘We also support efforts to strengthen our regional mechanisms for maritime cooperation, from dealing with piracy, terrorism and other crimes, to marine safety and natural disasters,’ he added.
China has in the past taken exception to India’s presence in the South China Sea, which India believes is important for its commercial interests. In this context, China’s participation in the recent fleet review is seen as constructive.
The inaugural India-China Maritime Affairs Dialogue held on 4 February in Delhi exchanged bilateral perspectives on maritime security, developments in international regimes such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the International Maritime Organisation. The next round of talks will be held in Beijing.
China warily viewed last year’s India-US-Japan Trilateral Ministerial Dialogue, where the three nations ‘agreed to work together to maintain maritime security through greater collaboration, considering the growing convergence of their respective interests in the Indo-Pacific region’.
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