BEIJING: India should stop regarding the Indian Ocean as its backyard although it has an important role to play in ensuring peace and stability in the Indian Ocean region, according to the Chinese military.
“I admit that geographically speaking India has a special role to play in stabilizing the Indian Ocean region and South Asian region. But (for the Indian Ocean), backyard is not a very appropriate word to use for an open sea and international areas of sea,” Senior Captain Zhao Yi, who is Associate Professor at the Institute of Strategy of the elite National Defence University in Beijing, said.
“If the Indian side views the Indian Ocean as its backyard,” he added, “it cannot explain why navies from Russia, the United States, Australia have the right of free navigation in Indian Ocean,” he told Indian journalists.
Incidentally, China has different views about its role in South China Sea, where it does not want navies of non-regional countries to operate.
Thinking of the Indian Ocean as its backyard could be dangerous, Zhao suggested.
One American scholar had warned of the possibility of “clashes” in the Indian Ocean, he said adding, “I don’t agree. But if some countries view it as their backyard, then this (possibility) could not be eliminated.”
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy is trying to convince India that recent moves to expand its influence in Indian Ocean were motivated by trade and security considerations and not aimed at India. PLA’s submarines recently visited Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
“The Chinese navy’s presence in the Indian Ocean is to protect maritime security and of sealines of communication. We should make efforts to strengthen trust. If there are still doubts and concerns of navigation in the Indian Ocean then I believe we haven’t done enough to enhance mutual trust,” Zhang Wei, Researcher of the PLA Navy Academic Institute, who was also present at the briefing said.
PLA officers said there was need for transparency, especially in the wake of concerns in Indian strategic circles over submarine visits by the PLAN to Sri Lanka last year and to Pakistan earlier this year. China described both visits as routine.
“When most submarines navigate we inform our neighbouring countries to reduce concerns and enhance mutual trust,” Zhang said. added that China’s attention on the Indian Ocean region was driven by trade, with key energy imports passing through the waters.
Both countries need to do more to build trust – and be more transparent, PLA officials said.
“India has extended an invitation to the PLA Navy to attend a fleet review in 2016. This shows a lot of cooperation and understanding at the military level,” Senior Colonel Yang Yujun, who is the deputy director deneral of the defence mMinistry’s information office, said.
“Some misunderstanding and speculation comes from a lack of understanding or knowledge about these developments. Now relations between two sides has become much more mature than before,” he said.
Yang Yujun, said the navy’s expanding role included anti-piracy escort missions in the Indian Ocean. It has provided protection for 6000 ships, of which 60 per cent were foreign, since its deployment in the area in 2008.
These missions had “open and transparent purposes, and this was clearly stated to Indian friends and other countries, he said. “India has an understanding of the PLA Navy’s activities. Communication is smooth,” he said, adding that both sides had through joint escort missions boosted strategic trust.
Direct links between the general headquarters of China and India will be established soon, following a recent agreement to operationalize hotlines.
“This will be conducive to enhancing mutual trust, preventing misjudgments and managing crises,” he said, adding that despite the fact that the border had not been delineated both countries “have willingness to maintain peace and tranquility in border areas”.
Speaking about China-Pakistan relations, Major Jiang Bin, staff officer in defence ministry’s foreign affairs office Asian Affairs Bureau, said “one important policy” of China was that its ties with Pakistan are “never directed at India”.