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India's smart naval power

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COMMENTS

24 February 2010 13:20

India is smartening up its naval diplomacy in the great maritime game with China. New Delhi is showing signs of a new spirit of cooperation with Beijing in the Indian Ocean, offering to protect Chinese oil shipments or even cooperate with the Chinese Navy.

This is not capitulation. It is cleverness. As I have argued previously, India needs to be on the front foot in building maritime security cooperation in the Indian Ocean, in a way that locks in India's own advantages as being the only great power actually located there. That's why India should have offered last year to refuel China's anti-piracy patrols, rather than letting the French do it at Djibouti. Maybe the Indians were spurred into engagement by their worries about China recently taking a lead role in patrolling a zone in the Gulf of Aden.

Well, better late than never. By making a show of taking the lead in engaging with the Chinese, India can test China's intentions, and weaken China's rationale for a 'string of pearls', in the form of the permanent bases some Chinese analysts are now advocating.

This is not to deny that India might face a direct military threat or wider strategic competition from China in the Indian Ocean. Alongside proactive engagement, India should continue to hedge – asymmetrically, as Admiral Suresh Mehta has wisely argued.

Photo by Flickr user Preters, used under a Creative Commons license.

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