Full text of Inaugural address speech delivered by Inspector Genenral Rajan Bargotra at Internationa
C3s article no: 0150/2016
(The Inaugural Address was delivered by Inspector General Rajan Bargotra at the University of Madras on 18 November 2016 at the International Conference “Current Developments in China: Regional Implications on Security and Stability” organised by Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S), National Maritime Foundation- Chennai Chapter (NMF) and the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, University of Madras.)
A very good morning to you all. At the outset, I would like to thank Chennai Centre for China Studies for inviting me to this very pertinent and important conference on Current Developments in China and their Implications for regional security and stability. It’s indeed an honour and privilege to be in a company of this august and intellectual gathering with experts drawn from various respectable institutions who have been focused on their studies on China and have vast knowledge to share. I would also like to compliment Chennai Centre for China Studies for organizing the conference on this extremely relevant and significant topic for every Indian who would like to unravel the mystery behind Chinese thinking and intentions.
Though India shares 3488 km of border with China in northern and eastern states, our people to people contact between two countries is not much due to topography, mountainous terrain and thin population in the border areas, security restrictions, and limited cultural and tourism interactions. Further, the difference in languages has also not helped in understanding and appreciating their viewpoint about us. We grew up in the backdrop of the history of 1962 Indo-China war, which was more than half a century ago. Thereafter, other than oft-repeated border violations and reiterations for disputed border or territorial claims, we didn’t have immediate grave threats to security from China in the same fashion as from Pakistan. Thus, there is no animosity which is ingrained in Indians at large towards Chinese. Hence, when in international relations, China’s actions do not appear to support India, it becomes intriguing and demands deeper analysis.
In the wake of 1962 war, China chose to ally itself with Pakistan to counter India, as well as to retain its influence in South Asia and has continued to maintain the ties with Pakistan as a Strategic relationship. China has been reluctant for admission of India into United Nations Security Council. It’s China who has blocked India’s entry into Nuclear Supplier Group on the grounds of India not having signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and equating India with Pakistan who is a known proliferator. It is China who has acted against the resolution for declaring Masood Azhar, founder of Jaish e Mohammad, as terrorist despite clear evidence. The evidence was acceptable to the whole world but not China. It has invested 46 billion US Dollars in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which connects China through the Central Asian Republics to Gwadar providing direct and shorter access to the Persian Gulf. It’s a Strategic Route for China providing the alternative to longer sea route, which passes through choke points in Malacca Strait and SE Asia. This land route would shorten the sea route, save China from Malacca dilemma and for economic reasons too, this is significant for China. However, the issue here is, it passes through POK and despite China treating POK as disputed territory, it has gone ahead with this Corridor.
China has resolved its border disputes with all its neighbours excepting India. The concern is that China is not in hurry to resolve this dispute. The apprehension is that this dispute can be invoked any time when the relations between china and India deteriorate or in the case of Indo-Pak conflict to mount pressure on India by the threat of opening a second front.
Maritime Silk Route, a project initiated by the China’s president Xi Jinping in 2013 calls for greater maritime cooperation between China and Southeast Asian nations. The New MSR extends to Sri Lanka and passes through Indian Ocean, Africa and to Europe, thus connecting to the New Silk Road over land. Together, the projects are named as “One Belt and One Road” entailing a 40 billion $ investment by china besides financial facility from its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) with 50 billion $ capital. Backed by Chinese-funded banks and companies, it is supposed to benefit the partners in the development of their maritime infrastructure.
China will establish new ports, remodel the existing ports, engage in naval cooperation, and provide assistance to share the development opportunities. It emphasises on improving connectivity with Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia and even Africa, by building a network of port cities along the Silk Route, linking the economic hinterland in China. The “belt and road” projects aim at increasing China’s influence in the region, it aspires to improve China’s geostrategic position in the world besides reviving its slowing economy.MSR is part of a rising China’s attempt to create trade and economic relationships with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and south Asian countries through trade, port and continental land bridges to draw the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) littorals within its area of influence.
The entire proposal needs to be seen in the context of Indian national interests and implications for India’s role in the IOR and South Asia. The unstated, underlying strategic objectives of MSR raise questions about Chinese intentions. China is attempting to expand its influence in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea by building ports in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, apart from other Indian Ocean littoral states, through a strategy which generally earlier has been referred to as ‘String of Pearls’. China has invested over US$ 1 billion in Hambantota and Gwadar ports and is also developing the Colombo South Port project. Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have pledged support to Xi Jinping’s Maritime Silk Route initiative. Nearly every Indian neighbour in the IOR littoral already has strong economic ties with the Peoples Republic of China. Huge infrastructural assistance, which these countries cannot afford and may not be able to repay, entails tacit indebtness, which can be returnable in kind in other forms. If the MSR leads to important neighbours like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka drifting into the Chinese influence, it would represent a serious challenge to India’s concept of peace and stability in south Asia. Further, some of the states in our neighbourhood have learnt to practice playing of the ‘China card’, that is, exploit Sino-Indian mistrust to advance their national and developmental objectives. For these neighbours, the MSR may turn out to be another potential opportunity to play the ‘China card’ in their strategic bargaining with India. The maritime infrastructure built in the guise of developmental assistance will make Chinese warships easily supportable in terms of logistics and operational turnaround, enabling the Chinese Navy (PLAN) to forward deploy in IOR. India will need to consolidate its own engagements and investments in its immediate neighbourhood to dissuade her maritime neighbours from becoming Chinese dependencies.
There is a large asymmetry between military assets of Chinese and Indian armed forces, especially ground forces which will continue to exist given the difference in size of theirs and our economy. However, it’s the Indian Ocean which offers the geostrategic advantage to India. China’s long and vulnerable SLOCs extend from West Asia and East Africa to China’s eastern seaboard. Eighty-five percent of China’s oil imports flows through the northern Indian Ocean in close proximity to Indian naval deployments. The vulnerable SLOCs crucial to China’s trade pass through the Malacca Straits, which has a potential for interdiction by any Navy who has the capability to operate there. So far, the PLA Navy does not possess the adequate capacity or strategic basing rights to secure its IOR SLOCs. If China needs MSR to give the boost to its slowing economy, it would also need stronger Naval presence to protect its assets.
The Indian Navy has a comfortable reach to Malacca Straits and much beyond. The PLA Navy is going to extend its operational deployments to IOR and the Indian Navy has to be prepared with the counter strategy of keeping the Chinese Navy’s activities under monitoring in our neighbourhood. With the Indian Coast Guard’s ambitious acquisition plan fructifying on schedule, it is going to be a 200 ship and 100 aircraft strong Coast Guard by 2020. This should be good enough to take care of coastal security and other peacetime security tasks in Indian waters. This would leave Indian Navy with freedom to exercise its blue water role and deployments in western pacific. Thus, asymmetry in our northern Himalayan borders can be offset by asymmetry in the maritime domain.
However, as I said in the beginning that India as a nation does not have any ill will or animosity towards China. Notwithstanding this, the asymmetry in security between both countries will definitely make India seek options for strengthening it or attaining some sort of balance. The USA has renewed its interest in the Asia- Pacific region with its policy of ‘Pivot to Asia’. Japan is also looking for an enhanced role in the region. Indian Navy has been conducting exercises with US and Japanese Navy. India has the interests in offshore oil production in EEZ of Vietnam and thus has stakes in seeing that freedom of navigation in SCS is maintained and the laws of seas as per UNCLOS are followed by all the nations. China’s announcement of ‘Nine-dash line’ and declaring the South China Sea as ‘core interest’ has escalated the ante. The assertive attitude of China is visible in its unwillingness to accept the verdict of Permanent Court of Arbitration of UN on SCS which went in favour of Philippines. On the core issues of its interests, China is likely to exert military and economic coercion. In the interest of global security and peace and flow of trade and energy, it is imperative that maritime or territorial disputes are not allowed to flare up and are managed through peaceful negotiations. At the same time, the incremental authoritative behaviour of China needs to be challenged by global and regional powers.
Simultaneously, India needs to continuously engage China to clear the perceptions held with the baggage of history. As our Prime Minister had said, India and China will continue to grow, simultaneously, and our policies will have to cater to this emerging reality. For India, the situation is complex since China is not only our largest neighbour but also because China is today a major power in the world both from the traditional geopolitical point of view and the geo-economic point of view. In the world of today, China is a factor in several equations, and economic interdependencies and trade considerations also play a dominant role.Therefore, it is heartening to see that the scholars here in Chennai are dedicated to study, examine, analyse, interpret and reflect to help us understand China. I am sure this conference will discuss all these issues and enlighten us in understanding it better. I wish this conference all the very best.
(Inspector General Rajan Bargotra, TM is serving as the Regional Commander of Coast Guard Region East)