“China is set to increase its influence and control in the Indian Ocean”; this has become the favourite subject of speculation within the Indian media. The Indian military also often follows this new“respond to China” trend. In the last few days,The Times of India, Times News Network and other Indian news media, outlets have reported that in the last 8 to 9 months, India has intensified military deployments and infrastructure development in the Andaman and Nicobar islands to strengthen the “eastern maritime front line”. India has sent cruise missile corvettes and installed a number of radars, among other measures. These actions seem to be in response to Chinese vessels frequently entering the Indian Ocean region.
An article published in the Times of India on February 27it vividly described the scenario from the beginning—On 23 February.A light on the coastal radar screen turns on, following which an alarm is raised in New Delhi. These are the unidentified warships approaching the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Related personnel immediately alert the military command center at Andaman and Nicobar islands. Following this, these ships are already under surveillance. According to the reports, the ship was found to be Chinese navy’s submarine supply ships. The Indian navy got suspicious due to their presence, thinking that there may be more Chinese submarines cruising around the periphery.
“We are monitoring the activities of these Chinese military vessels”, said Chatterjee, the commanding officer of the Andaman and Nicobar military command center, in response to the above mentioned report. This is not the first time that Chinese vessels have been found near Andaman and Nicobar islands. “As the situation has changed, there is a need to pay more attention and concern to this region’s defense capabilities”, Chatterjee said. He also said that some countries operate in their administrative region and since these waters have warships and submarines— “therefore, we are justified in being on a strict guard”.
Times News Network reported on 26 January that Andaman and Nicobar islands have been witnessto a high level of infrastructure development in the last few years—especially in the last 8 to 9 months. Indian Ministry of Defense previously said that the Andaman and Nicobar islands are India’s eastern maritime frontier and not the Coromandel Coast, as was previously believed by people.
Chatterjee told reporters that in the next five years the Andaman and Nicobar islands will be a bigger part of the picture. A lot more military personnel will be deployed here and great effort will be made to develop infrastructure for military and civilian use. Giving an example he said, “Missile corvette INS Karmuk will be deployed here from April 1, P-81anti submarine patrol aircraft has already started their mission here. We have already deployed additional radar s here and more are in pipeline. Currently we are considering converting the Car Nicobar base into a permanent base. In the next few years Andaman and Nicobar islands will possess formidable defense capabilities”.
TNN television station said that thatthe Chinese navy appearing within 500 km radius of Andaman and Nicobar islands makes the region vulnerable to attacks. According to the Andaman and Nicobar island military command center, there is a need of at least two other command ships. They will be located in the north, south and central part of the island. In addition to this, Andaman and Nicobar’s North and South air base needs track extension. According to Chatterjee, “Right now, we have already submitted infrastructure plans for the next 10 years”.
The Andamansare more than 1000 km away from India’s mainland and the Strait of Malacca is situated at the not so far in south east. Zhao Gancheng, a researcher from Shanghai Institute of International Studies (SIIS), responded to the February 28 report published in Global times stating that the aim of Andaman and Nicobar islands military center is to monitor the situation in the Strait of Malacca. In comparison to the military command centers in Kolkata and Mumbai, the Andaman and Nicobar command center is much closer to South China Sea and International waters. Earlier, India didn’t have much influence over Strait of Malacca region, in addition to that, up till now India didnot even have the capability or even have a base in Southeast Asia, So India hopes to improve this situation through the Andaman and Nicobar island military center.
Hyping the “China threat theory” has become a habit for the Indian media. Earlier, when China deployed cruise missile at the Yongxing Islands among a much heated debate, India’s First Post said that this display of muscle will inevitable raise concerns in New Delhi and that China may include Andaman and Nicobar islands in its territory list. The Indian side wants to balance regional military presence by making advance preparations. According to an article IDSA, as far as India is concerned, the presence of Chinese military in the Indian Ocean region affects India’s national security. Previously, India and China’s competition was only limited to land and sky but now it is maritime has become “third dimensional”.
Zhao Gancheng believes that India always viewed the Indian Ocean as its own sphere of influence and was always wary of China. Indian media’s reports on the development and future of China’s policy in Indian Ocean are always negative. In fact, India’s Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Defense and other government branches are generally more cautious about the present situation and don’t make unnecessary statements. The military probably uses this pretext for increasing their budget while the Indian media uses “Chinese threat” perception to get more views.
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