Foreign Policy Watch: India-China

Indo-Pacific region


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : The East China Sea, the Bohai Sea, the Yellow Sea, the South China Sea

Mains level : Paper 2-India's Indo-Pacific vision and China's BRI

As India tries to diffuse the tension along the disputed northern border with China, it must focus on the other potential fronts that China could open. India Ocean could be the next one. This article examines the centrality of the Indian Ocean for China and their approach to the region.

India’s Indo-Pacific vision

  • This vision is based on our historical associations with this region.
  • This vision also acknowledges the importance of the Indian Ocean in building prosperity in this century.
  • So, the key points of this vision are thus-
  • 1) Inclusiveness, openness and ASEAN centrality and unity.
  • 2) India does not see the Indo-Pacific Region as a strategy or as a club of limited members.
  • 3) It is not directed against any country.

China should have equal access

  • China is not a littoral state in the Indian Ocean.
  • Historically, Chinese naval activity was limited to the East China Sea, the Bohai Sea, the Yellow Sea, and the South China Sea.
  •  In today’s context, China is the second-largest economy and the world’s largest trading nation.
  • The sea-lanes of communication in the Indian Ocean are vital to her economy and security.
  • Under international law, China should have equal access to the Indian ocean.

China’s “Malacca Dilemma”

  • China thinks that others would block the Malacca Straits to “contain” the Chinese.
  • So, China has strategized to dominate not just the Malacca Straits, but the ocean beyond it.
  • The PLA Navy (PLAN) made its first operational deployment in the Gulf of Aden in 2008.
  • In 2009 China planned for overseas base or facility.
  • In 2010 a China State Oceanic Administration report alluded to plans to build aircraft carriers.

BRI: Overcoming the deficiencies China face in India Ocean

  • The US hegemony and India’s regional influence in the Indian Ocean are thought of as a challenge to China.
  • So, China focused on 3 inherent deficiencies that they wanted to overcome.
  • (a) China is not a littoral state.
  • (b) Its passage through key maritime straits could be easily blocked.
  • (c) The possibility of US-India cooperation against China.
  • How to overcome these deficiencies?
  • (1) carefully selecting sites to build ports — Djibouti, Gwadar, Hambantota, Sittwe and Seychelles.
  • (2) By conducting activities in a low-key manner to “reduce the military colour as much as possible”.
  • (3) By not unnerving India and America by cooperating at first, then slowly penetrating into the Indian Ocean, beginning with detailed maritime surveys, ocean mapping, HADR, port construction and so on.

 China acting on the plans

  • The PLA’s new base in Djibouti is the prototype for more “logistics” facilities to come.
  • More port construction projects like Gwadar and Hambantota, are being offered to vulnerable countries.
  • These projects are commercially unviable but have military possibilities,
  • Chinese “civilian” vessels routinely conduct surveys in the EEZ of littoral states.
  • In January 2020 the PLA Navy conducted tripartite naval exercises with Russia and Iran in the Arabian Sea.
  • They have the largest warship building programme in the world.

Consider the question “What constitutes India’s Indo-Pacific vision? Elaborate on the factors that explain China’s reluctance to subscribe to this vision.”


The idea of Indo-Pacific might potentially derail the carefully crafted Chinese plan. So, they now wish to cause alarm by raising fears about Great Power “strategic collision” caused by the so-called American-led “containment” strategy. It is important to look past their propaganda.

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