Strategic with that among China and India in

Strategic Convergence in Indian Ocean Region


1.         C. Raja Mohan, in
his book ‘Samudra Manthan-Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific,’ uses the
allegory of an enchanting episode from Indian mythology, known as Samudra
Manthan or ‘churning of the oceans’ to depict the triangular strategic dynamics
between India–China and the US in the Indo-Pacific region1. He finds a
clear analogy between the power play/competition among the angels and demons in
the Indian legend with that among China and India in the Indo-Pacific. On the
other hand, he equates the diplomatic maneuvers of the mythical supreme god to
the role played by the US, in shaping/influencing the Sino-Indian relationship
in the Indo-Pacific. Samudra Manthan is actually a grand ‘cooperation’ project,
a harbinger of the modern-day ‘win-win’ concept, where arch rivals,
antagonists, unequal powers – all came together and worked in harmony with each
other to achieve one common agenda of extracting ambrosia from the ocean bed
for common good.

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2.         Story of Samudra
Mathan highlights its central theme of ‘cooperation for common good,’ as a new
frame of reference for India–China–US trilateral interactions in the
Indo-Pacific. In other words, beyond the popular notion of severe strategic
rivalry consuming this power triangle, there is an evolving trend of
convergence, slowly but surely taking root in this trilateral framework.


3.         US ‘s
interest in IOR.        The US
certainly remains the dominant Indo-Pacific power. Its three joint combatant commands
PACOM, CENTCOM and AFRICOM operate out of the region and the US 5th Fleet,
stationed in Bahrain and 7th Fleet, located at Diego Garcia are powerful forces
and are key factors for peace and stability in the region. The primary
objective of the US, in the region is to maintain freedom of navigation for
commercial and personal activity2.
Accordingly, it actively patrols the region against threats emanating from
piracy, smuggling, drug and human trafficking and other forms of traditional/ non-traditional
threats by forming multinational Combined Task Forces like CTF 1513.


4.         China is no longer
confining itself to the Pacific and is fast marching westward into the Indian
Ocean Region (IOR). Its key interests in the IOR lies in facilitating its
economic imperatives and to address specific security concerns. It is actively
engaging with South Asian states like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and
Maldives, among others to increase its footprint, to maintain presence in the
region by developing partnership and to overcome pressure created by natural
chokepoints in the IOR4.


5.         Furthermore, all
these three powers have lately made major commitments to the region in form of
well-defined policies. For instance, the US has launched the 2nd phase of its
‘rebalance strategy’ which is aimed at revitalizing US engagement in the
Indo-Pacific and maintaining its preeminence in the region5. China, on
the other hand, launched its ‘One Belt and One Road’ initiative, connecting the
Asia-Pacific economic circle with the European economic circle, with the aim of
exhorting its centrality in the global trade in the garb of ultimate aim of
becoming global power. India, in 2014 introduced its ‘Act East’ policy which is
an extrapolation of its ‘Look East’ policy of the 1990s and demarcated
South-East India Ocean sea-routes to the Pacific Ocean, South and East China
Seas and Western Pacific Ocean and their littoral as an area of its maritime


6.         Importance
to US.  IOR is the potential
theater for India–China competition for supremacy in Asia7. They highlight
the probability that any future conflict over the unsettled Himalayan frontier may
spill over to the Indian Ocean and Eastern Pacific – which is one of the
reasons why Indo-Pacific occupies a distinct place in US strategic imagination8. US Navy  play the role of balancer in the region.


7.         This trilateral
relationship between China–India and the US  consisting of amity between one ‘pivot’ player
(that is the US) and the two ‘wing’ players (China and India) but enmity
between the latter two9. That
explains the reason why with the recent complications developing in China–US
ties over the South China Sea issue, there has been much hype over ‘increasing
strategic congruence’ between India and the US vis-à-vis China. India’s core
strategic objectives in the region are largely compatible with those of US and India,
in all probability, appear to be the natural heir to the American role in the


8.         Implications
to India.         The most
prominent traditional security risk in the Indo- Pacific today is the strategic
competition between the US and China which has the potential to spill over from
ground-zero in the Western Pacific to India’s backyard in the Indian Ocean
region. It is argued that India, with its growing economic heft and its
strategic location in the Indian Ocean region, can be a balancer in this great
game between China and the US. However, India has many strategic dilemmas to
deal with – while on one hand, India is concerned about growing Chinese
dominance of Asia, on the other hand, it is reluctant to get too close to the
US and thereby invite a premature confrontation with Beijing. Making matters
worse, India also has to juggle between several ideological impulses.


9.         Impact on
China.    The biggest challenge to
peace and security in the Indo- Pacific Region is the contradiction between US
and India on management of the Indian Ocean10. As per
Chinese, India wants to become the absolute great power in the Indian Ocean
region and turn Indian Ocean into India’s Ocean which is in direct
contradiction to US’s policy of maintaining its dominance in the region.


10.       China’s defence
white paper further builds up on this redefined security narrative11, where
Chinese armed forces pledged to take part in bilateral and multilateral joint
exercises and training, enhancing exchanges and cooperation with naval task
forces of other countries, actively participating in international maritime
security dialogues and cooperation, fulfilling international responsibilities
and obligations like UN peacekeeping missions, international disaster rescue
and humanitarian assistance, carrying out escort missions in the Gulf of Aden
and other sea areas and jointly securing international SLOCs.


11.       China also proposed
to ‘jointly build the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk
Road’.  In similar vein, at the
Shangri-La Summit China proposed to ‘Jointly’ safeguard peace and build a secure
Asia-Pacific region while actively fulfilling its international
responsibilities and obligations, safeguarding regional and international
security and stability and making greater contribution to common security. At
the Xiangshan Forum, 2015, China once again put forward the Asian Security
Concept 12
based on common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security.


12.       India’s vision.          In March 2015, when Prime Minister
Narendra Modi visited Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka, as a part of his
three nation tour in the IOR, he unveiled the novel concept of ‘SAGAR’ –
‘Security and Growth for All in the Region’13. The
vision is unique because it is not just limited to the idea of India taking the
lead in its neighborhood as a net security provider, offering its own
capabilities for the benefit of all.  This
vision of ‘security for all, to all, by all,’ as proposed by PM Modi in Mauritius
has been further explored and institutionalized through India’s maritime



13.       US ‘s vision. Simultaneously, the US side has also unveiled
a similar strategic vision for the Indo- Pacific space.  While highlighting the pivotal role played by
the US, economically, politically and militarily, in facilitating the rise of
regional players of the Indo-Pacific region – from Japan, South Korea, Taiwan,
Southeast Asia, to China and India and thereby ensuring prosperity in the
region in the past 70 years, the US now plans to further enhance and propagate
this objective and practice in the region and help provide security and
stability for decades to come15.



14.       Bilateral cooperation.        It is interesting to note how in spite of
all the cataclysmic projections about the waters of IOR turning into a
potential war zone for the three, maritime cooperation is slowly but surely
taking roots into this power triangle.


15.       The US–India
relationship is often deemed as one of the most significant partnerships of the
twenty-first century. Policy-makers in India and US have often highlighted on
the growing convergence of the US and Indian strategic interests and inherent synergy
between India’s Act East and US’s Rebalance strategy. Noting that the US–India defence
relationship can be an anchor of stability, both sides recognized each other as
‘priority partners in the Asia-Pacific.’ Further, given the increasingly
strengthened cooperation in defence, India has been regarded as a Major Defence
Partner of the US.16


16.       The key highlights
of India – US cooperation under PM Modi and President Obama are:

Renewal of the 10-year India–US
Defense Framework Agreement;

Identification of specific areas
for further maritime security cooperation;

Knowledge partnership in Defence


17.       Cooperation between
the two sides on defence technology and trade under the Defense Technology and
Trade Initiative (DTTI) is also a significant development aimed at greater
co-production and co-development of defense capabilities, thereby facilitating
US investments for PM Modi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative18. The
in-principle agreement between the US and India to conclude a Logistics
Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) during US Secretary of Defense, Ashton
Carter’s visit to India on April, 2016 is considered yet another important
development in India–US ties19. In terms
of maritime security, both sides have outlined concrete steps to bolster
Indo–US defense ties in this space. Technology partnerships for Navies and
upgrading existing bilateral framework exercise MALABAR has been on the agenda.
Both sides have also reaffirmed their desire to expeditiously conclude a white
shipping technical arrangement to improve data sharing on commercial shipping
traffic and also agreed to commence Navy-to-Navy discussions on submarine safety
and anti-submarine warfare. Both sides decided to launch a bilateral Maritime Security
Dialogue, co-chaired by officials at the Joint Secretary/Assistant Secretary level
of the Indian Ministries of Defence and External Affairs and the US Departments
of Defense and State. In a goodwill gesture for each other, the US participated
in the International Fleet Review of the Indian Navy at Visakhapatnam in
February 2016, and India took part in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC)
multilateral naval exercise in 2016.


17.       It is interesting
to note that at individual level, China, India and the US – all are exploring
newer frameworks of trilateral cooperation with different like-minded countries
under the banner of an  evolving concept
of ‘security networks.’ For instance, the US has security networks with Japan and
Australia in Southeast Asia, with Japan, Korea in Northeast Asia and Japan–India
in South Asia. India has also signed trilateral agreement on maritime security
with countries such as Maldives and Srilanka and conducted trilateral maritime
exercise like Malabar. China also has some trilateral arrangements with
Pakistan and the US. Although this new wave of ‘security networks’ evolving in
the Asia-Pacific region is often interpreted as nations ‘ganging up’ 20against
each other and settling scores.

18.       There is
possibility of United States of America to commit  themselves to the Indian Ocean region inspite
being already stretched to the Middle East and in the Afghan
theater.Geopolitically is a prudent move 
to look for partners for coordinated actions like US in IOR and it is my
assessment that the more coordination with the US will have great security
preparation in the IOR but real issue is that the US is not involved so much in
the maritime geopolitics of the Indian Ocean region than it is in the maritime
geopolitics of the South China Sea. So in a sense what we think is an initiative
that might draw the US into the Indian Ocean region could be a movement on part
of the other partners to draw India into the Pacific which is something that we
may not be very comfortable with. It is imperative for India to form a counter
front to China. This is in some ways diluted our strategic leverages in the
region and a violation of Indian sovereignty or India national interests in the
Indian Ocean region. Therefore politically looking for strategic partners as
equals, I think is right but in a strategic sense or in a maritime security
sense I think the move still some distance away. We will need to wait for the
Chinese to do something openly provocative in the Indian Ocean region or maybe
in the Pacific in which Indian interests are threatened and for us strategic
partnership to finally come shape.


19.       UNITED 
states presence in the Indian Ocean region, should be of shared mutual
responsibility and the shared mutual concerns on the maritime security that
make collaboration and coordination with India. Indian Navy has tremendous
projection capability to support the littoral states in times of calamities,
piracy and common threats which hurts the energy security in a big way. Chinese
ambition of port development is a signal to look forwards for their alliances
cooperation with each other. Such cooperation will enable India to plug the
critical inventory and capability gaps to counter Chinese submarines, theatre
ASW, minesweepers, medium range recce aircrafts and. But what’s really happened
is that on non-traditional front we have done a lot with these nations on
piracy , HADR but when it comes to the key operational areas we don’t see much
help coming about and that is a problem because unless we don’t get these
particular capabilities we will not be able to have effective naval strategy in
the Indian Ocean region and for that matter the wider Indo Pacific.