Is China a 'chameleon' in Asia theatre?

Itanagar, June 15 (ANI): Given the fast changing geo-political scenario in South and South East Asia, believing that China is looking to cement its ties with India further in a positive manner would amount to landing in quick sand, an editorial in an Arunachal Pradesh daily has opined.

According to the editorial in the Arunachal Front newspaper, mandarins of the Indian External Affairs Ministry will have to continue maintaining an "eagle's eye" on developments taking place in Beijing, despite the recent "positive" visit of Chinese Premier Li Kequing.

Specifically referring to China's "Blue Book", which details that country's Indian Ocean strategy and interests, which was released on May 10 this year, and about 11 days before Premier Keqiang's visit to India, the editorial says the book makes a case for Beijing to deepen its economic engagements with the Indian Ocean Region's (IOR) littoral states.

Involved parties, the book says should be aware and pre-warned that China's interests will be driven by commercial rather than military objectives.

The book also warns that the Indian Ocean could end up "as an ocean of conflict and trouble" if countries like India, the U.S. and China fail to engage with each other more constructively as their interests begin to overlap.

Frankly assessing China's role in the IOR, the book laments that Beijing has trailed behind New Delhi and Washington in securing its interests.

The 350-page book's introduction says candidly that China "has no Indian Ocean strategy," while India has put forward its own "Look East" policy and the U.S. has put in place its "pivot" or "rebalancing" in Asia.

The book includes chapters on India's "Look East" policy, the expansion of India's interest eastward in an interlinked "Indo-Pacific." and lessons for China on "the decline of U.S. and U.K. hegemony" in the region.

It predicts that "no single regional power or world power, including the U.S., Russia, China, Australia, India, can control the Indian Ocean by itself in the future world," leaving "a fragile balance of power" that will be reached after jostling among "big powers."

The book stresses that "the rise of China is not a threat" to the region, though it acknowledges that "Indian Ocean countries, including India, are worried about the rise of China."

The "Blue Book" fails to mention anything about China's alleged "Look West" policy, intriguingly suggesting that China can change its colours like a chameleon.

The Arunachal Front editorial feels that former diplomat and ambassador Rajiv Bhatia is correct that New Delhi neither wants a new Cold War, nor a domination of the region by a single country.

South Block, according to the editorial's assessment of Bhatia's views, envisages a region where stability and cooperation prevail, marked by maritime security for all and a collective ability to deal with sources of non-traditional security threats.

India, in the meanwhile, is set to enhance its hard power and also deploy its soft power assets to deepen its links with littoral states.

In this context, the points to note are:

(1) In the Indian Ocean's western region, India's effort has been to strengthen defence cooperation with island states - Mauritius, Madagascar and Seychelles, besides Maldives. This exercise, still in an early phase, could do with acceleration.

2)Under the overall umbrella of the IBSA Dialogue Forum, cooperation among the navies of the three member-states - India, Brazil and South Africa - through joint exercises, training and strategizing has been gaining momentum. The two previous trilateral exercises took place in Cape Town and Durban. The resultant synergy should guide these countries to engage other interested parties by holding more exercises on the eastern seaboard of Africa.

(3) Since the western segment of the Indian Ocean has limited institutional arrangements for dialogue and cooperation compared to the eastern theatre, many believe it is time to reinvigorate the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), and

(4) India's bilateral cooperation on strategic issues needs to be strengthened with seven countries in the eastern theatre - Myanmar, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, Japan and Australia. Some may term them a 'potential necklace of diamonds.'

However, the proposed cooperation among "maritime democracies" will merit consideration only if it is not a proxy for an anti-China alliance.

For cementing collective endeavours to make the Indian Ocean and its periphery safe, India's preference should be to utilize the existing institutions, especially the East Asia Summit.

The editorialised views expressed in the above article are that of the Arunachal Front(ANI)


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