April 21, 2009 9:00:58 am
Pushing for a greater say in the Indian Ocean region,China has sounded out the Indian Navy that it wants to be inducted in some form into the 33-member Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) initiative started by India last year. But the Ministry of External Affairs has turned down the request.
Its learnt that the Navy conveyed the Chinese interest to the MEA which promptly rebuffed the move,saying there was no justification to involve China in the Indian Ocean.
Sources said Chinese Navy officials had approached their Indian counterparts to explore ways to accommodate Beijing as either an observer or associate member ahead of Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehtas ongoing week-long visit to China.
The Navy,on its part,informed the MEA and asked it to consider the informal request. But given that Chinas long-term ambition is to counter Indian influence in the Indian Ocean,the MEA said there was no strategic rationale to let China be associated with IONS as it was strictly restricted to littoral states of the Indian Ocean.
While UK is part of the initiative because its still owns Diego Garcia,the US request too is pending on technical grounds even though it has bases in the region. Admiral Mehta,who is on a visit to China until April 25,was keen that he has an answer when he is in Qingdao for the international fleet review.
It is,however,learnt that India is keen on having a Naval attache posted in Beijing besides the Army attache.
Given that the 1962 memories have still not faded away for the two armies to foster a meaningful relationship,the assessment in New Delhi is that interaction between the two navies could be more productive.
In fact,the Defence Ministry is pushing for some 30 new posts for military officials in various Indian missions across the world. The armed forces are also keen to have an Air attache posted in Beijing. India is said to have already broached the topic with China and will now formally make a proposal.
While explaining this,sources said,the idea to step up interaction between the navies should not be stretched to giving Beijing access to IONS as it does not even meet the basic criteria for any sort of association. It is important to note here that China had rushed ships to Somalia after the Indian Navy moved its ships into the area for anti-piracy patrols.
Gaining access to Indian Ocean has been a long-term strategic objective for China. In pursuing this objective,China started partnering Indias neighbours to build strategic ports like the one in Gwadar,Pakistan. It is also funding the Hambantota port development project in Sri Lanka besides bidding for the Colombo South Port. In this context,New Delhi is keen that while bilateral relations between the two navies ought to be improved,it is still premature to involve China in any multilateral forum on the Indian Ocean.
The IONS currently has 33 members,including India,and was started last year with India hosting the inaugural event. The next symposium is in 2010 and the venue is till to be finalised.
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