China has been greatly expanding its footprint in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) in recent years. China now considers its emergence as a maritime power and protection of overseas interests as strategic priorities. In the Chinese White Paper on military strategy released in May 2015, there was a major change in the focus of the PLA Navy with addition of “open seas protection” to its existing role of “offshore waters defence”; protection of overseas interests was identified as a major strategic task of the Chinese Navy. This doctrinal shift, the rolling out of the Maritime Silk Road initiative with its network of ports controlled by Chinese entities, rapid buildup of the PLA Navy and its assets, major reforms and modernisation underway in the Chinese military, militarisation of reclaimed/augmented features in South China Sea, near continuous naval presence and regular submarine deployments in the IOR, development of its first overseas facility and deployment of the PLA Marines at Djibouti, and other actions taken by China are progressively resulting in a much greater and more permanent presence of the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean. China’s influence is also on the rise in our neighbourhood countries of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar, while the Sino-Pak ‘all weather’ strategic partnership gathers further strength with projects like the China Pakistan Economic Corridor and the Gwadar Deep Sea Port. China is also investing heavily in maritime infrastructure in the region. It is likely to establish additional logistics hubs or bases in the IOR, apart from Djibouti. At the same time, China also has its vulnerabilities in the Indian Ocean. The strategic contestation between China and the USA has become more explicit and sharper, and it is likely to play out in the maritime sphere as well.
The roundtable discussion will examine these developments and trends, deliberate on the likely trajectory of China’s engagement with the IOR, and assess the implications of China’s expanding presence in the Indian Ocean on India and its centrality in this ocean. The panelists will explore measures India may take in response to China’s growing activities in the IOR and also discuss possible areas for cooperation with China in the maritime domain.
About the Panelists
Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan is the Director of the National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. He retired after forty years of distinguished service during which he was commended three times by the President of India. During his deputation to the Government of Mauritius he set up and commanded the Mauritius National Coast Guard. He has been the principal evaluator of the Navy’s battle-tactics, the Head of the Naval Training Team at the Staff College, and the Principal Director of Naval Operations. He has also been the commander of the aircraft carrier, Viraat, Chief of Staff of Western Naval Command and Commandant of the Indian Naval Academy (Ezhimala). He was Navy’s first Assistant Chief of the Naval Staff (Foreign Cooperation & Intelligence), where he conceptualised and executed the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS). He is a Fellow of several important think-tanks including the Ananta-Aspen Centre, the Forum for Strategic and Security Studies, and the Centre for Advanced Strategic and Security Studies.
Vice Admiral Anil Chopra is a Distinguished Fellow in Vivekananda International Foundation. He is a former Commander-in-Chief of both the operational commands of the Indian Navy i.e. the Western Naval Command, and the Eastern Naval Command; as well as a former Director General of the Indian Coast Guard. He has also commanded the Western Fleet, and the aircraft carrier, INS Viraat. As Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Policy and Plans), and earlier as Principal Director Naval Plans, he was extensively associated with the Navy’s Long-Term Force Structure and Financial Planning. As member of the apex Defence Acquisition Council for three years, he was involved with the ongoing evolution of the Defence Procurement Procedure. He has also been a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council of the U.S. in Washington D.C. Admiral Chopra retired in 2015, after forty years of distinguished service.
Commodore Gopal Suri is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Contemporary China Studies in the Ministry of External Affairs. He steers studies on China’s international relations, including the ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative, with a special focus on India’s neighbourhood. He has authored a book on ‘China’s Expanding Military Maritime Footprint in the IOR’. He has been a Senior Research Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation in the field of National Security and Strategy focusing on maritime security in the Indian Ocean and the Indo-Pacific. The officer is a serving submariner who has commanded a frigate and a submarine in his naval career. He has also held the appointment of Principal Director Submarine Operations at Naval Headquarters in addition to other staff appointments.
Ambassador Ashok K. Kantha is currently the Director of the Institute of Chinese Studies. He was Ambassador of India to China until January 2016. Prior to this, he was Secretary (East) at Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi. His previous assignments include High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka and Malaysia, Consul General in Hong Kong, Deputy Chief of Mission in Kathmandu, and Joint Secretary (East Asia) and Director (China) in Ministry of External Affairs.
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