Confirming reports that a Chinese vessel was forced to retreat after it entered India’s Exclusive Economic Zone near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in September, Indian Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh said Tuesday, “our stand is that if you have to do anything in our region, you notify us or take our permission”.
Addressing his annual press conference ahead of Navy Day Wednesday, Singh said China’s “presence in the Indian Ocean Region is increasing and we are constantly watching it”.
He said that on an average, “about seven to eight Chinese ships are available in this area, some under the anti-piracy escort group and some doing scientific research”. Sometimes, he said, Chinese vessels also enter Indian waters when they have satellite launches in the area.
The Chinese vessel which was forced to retreat in September had not taken permission or informed the Indian authorities. It was apparently conducting “research” near Port Blair. The issue has been taken up with the relevant authorities.
Asked whether the bilateral meetings between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping had affected the Chinese Navy’s behaviour, Singh said he had not “combined” the bilateral visits and naval activities, but “the fact is that their (China’s) naval activities have been continuing”.
Responding to a question, Singh said the “presence of China in the Indian Ocean Region started in 2008, they are a growing economy and they have aspirations”. “The fact is that they are present” in the region, and include some oceanographic research vessels as well, he said. “They’ve been given certain areas for deep-sea mining, so they are present in that area,” he said.
On China building its naval assets at a faster pace than India, Singh said, “they are doing what they have to do, they are moving at a pace that they are capable of”. He added that India will “move at a pace we are capable of”.
India is set to host a multi-lateral maritime exercise, Milan, off the coast of Visakhapatnam in March next year in which 41 countries will participate. Asked why China had not been invited, Singh said invitations were sent to “like-minded countries”. The US, Russia, France, Israel, Iran, UAE, Australia, Japan, South Korea, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam are among those who have been invited.
Sources said there was no government approval for inviting China, as India does not want to “legitimise China’s presence in the Indian Ocean”. India is cautious about the increasing presence of the Chinese Navy in the region.
Singh said the quadrilateral coalition of India, US, Japan and Australia does not have a military role in the Indo-Pacific region at the moment. “Our intention is is to have a stabilising influence, not a military influence” in the Indo-Pacific, he said.
“As far as the Indian Ocean Region is concerned, or the Indo-Pacific is concerned, we are ready to work with like-minded nations, based on the common interests of keeping safe and secure seas, freedom of navigation and rule-based order,” he said.
India and several other countries in the region have often taken a stand against China’s increased military presence in the South China Sea. Earlier this year, Vietnam had briefed India on the escalating tension in that area.