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China Expanding in The Indian Ocean: What you need to know

Picture: CHEC, OneIndia and University of Oxford

On 19th May 2021, the Sri Lankan Parliament approved the Colombo Port city Economic bill, hailing it as a source of investment and employment that will provide a boost to the country’s economy but Opposition alleged that it compromised the country’s sovereignty and will become a Chinese colony in Sri Lanka.

This was the debt-trap foreign policy of China. Lend country money to build infrastructure, get it constructed by Chinese companies then take over infrastructure built after the country fails to pay its debt. And Sri Lanka fell for it.

It is not a piece of good news for India. China has been expanding its footprint in the Indian Ocean and has been regularly deploying spy ships to gather intelligence and hydrographic data. Availability of a base would certainly enable a solid presence.

The great concern of the Indian Navy is that Hambantota and Colombo are less than 300 miles from the Indian Maryland and are less than an hour’s flying time away. So India will have to adapt to the presence of its principal adversary practically in its backyard and shape its preparedness and response.

  • In the meantime, China has also been active in other areas proximate to India. As per a recent report China has built three villages inside Bhutan, south of the Tibet border.

  • On 27th May China state media CGTN carried an article claiming “The China Nepal relationship is taller than Mount Everest".

  • The deadlock on the military de-escalation continues. China appears to be relying on its well-worn but effective playbook of dragging on negotiation endlessly while PLA builds road a permanent structure on the disputed land and makes itself at home.

  • It is indeed surprising that India despite its “Neighborhood first policy” is unable to anticipate events in its strategic neighborhood. It missed the Maldives a few years ago when a coup unseated President Nasheed and allowed the Chinese to make deep inroads into that country and led to the cancellation of the strategic international airport project with an Indian firm.

  • Bangladesh despite a healthy bilateral relationship procured two Ming class submarines and a frigate from China which gives that country military-diplomatic leverage that is detrimental to India’s interest in the Bay of Bengal.

India needs to recognize that being nice and hospitable to China does not work.

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