India and China Are Maneuvering For Political And Military Advantages Part II

India’s maneuvering is taking place at sea, both literally and figuratively. Sea Vigil 21, a biennial naval exercise starts today and will run through the next forty-eight hours. The scope of the exercise, in comparison to the one held in 2019, has expanded considerably. The exercise area for Sea Vigil 21 will include all 7500+ kilometers of India’s coastline and the Exclusive Economic Zone. Although mainly a coastal defense exercise aimed at securing India’s long and somewhat vulnerable shoreline, this year’s installment of Sea Vigil will act as a lead in to the major Indian Navy theater-level exercise TROPEX. The later exercise is the larger and more expansive one. Together, they will cover a transition from peacetime to war in the maritime areas, as well as the initial phases of operations at sea against an enemy force.

In recent years it has become evident that the IOR (Indian Ocean Region) is becoming more critical to Chinese geopolitical designs. China’s power in the IOR has expanded, and the same holds true for its footprint. The IOR provides crucial Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs) for many Asian nations as energy and trade corridors. Any vulnerabilities to them will bring on immediate effects for the economies of most Asian nations. China included. So, with this in mind the Chinese naval presence in the IOR has grown in the past few years. It is well to remember though, that in a time of crisis or conflict Chinese naval and air forces in the IOR might be more concerned with interdicting these SLOCs instead of keeping them secure.

For much of its history, India paid limited attention to the Indian Ocean. The absence of a maritime threat kept India’s naval focus locked on combating piracy and terrorism. Pakistan posed, and continues to pose a fairly limited naval threat. Concerns about China’s emerging power in the IOR have overtaken these issues. India’s strategic position in the IOR is being challenged by China. New Delhi has grown used to the Chinese military threat posed along its land border. The growing maritime threat is bringing on a new front to the Sino-Indian rivalry, as well as additional complications for India.

Sea Vigil 21, and TROPEX signal India’s acceptance of this new reality, as well as its determination to meet the challenge being posed in close proximity to its home waters head on.

Sino-Indian Update 17 June, 2020: Modi Speaks, Alert Levels Increase

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India’s leader spoke publicly today about the 20 Indian soldiers killed on Monday evening by Chinese forces along the Sino-Indian border. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said “the sacrifice of our soldiers will not be in vain,” and warned that India was capable of giving “a befitting reply.”

The two sides have blamed each other for instigating the battle. China’s foreign minister Wang Yi accused the Indians of provoking Monday’s clash, and violating the agreement reached by the two countries to deescalate tensions at the border. Wang informed his Indian counterpart that “The Indian side must not misjudge the current situation and must not underestimate China’s firm will to safeguard territorial sovereignty.”

That, in a nutshell, is what the situation boils down to: perceptions, and misperceptions. Conflicting perceptions of China’s intentions by Indian policymakers has contributed significantly to the discrepant policies, and strategies the Indian government and military have used in this crisis. The primary misperception seems to have been not tying China’s actions along the Line of Actual Control to its expansionism-driven foreign policy goals. This has caused New Delhi to underestimate the extent China is willing to go to in this crisis. Monday night proved this beyond the shadow of a doubt. Consequently, India is now forced to play catch up to an extent, and doing so carries the threat of further clashes, and escalation.

India’s military services have raised their alert levels. Army installations, and airbases in the area of the border have been placed on high alert. Frontline units along the Line of Actual Control have already been reinforced but the prospect of further reinforcement moving into the area remains. The Indian Navy has also raised its alert level, and is deploying additional ships and submarines into the Indian Ocean. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has made a number of forays into the IO over recent months and given what is happening at present in the Himalayas, the Indian Navy is growing serious about Chinese naval movements into its sphere of influence.