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International Conference on “Securing India’s Maritime Neighbourhood: Challenges and Opportunities

Updated: Jun 14

C3S Event Report No: 008/2019

Read and download event concept note and programme at this link: Maritime Conference; Final concept note and program schedule

The Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S) and the National Maritime Foundation (NMF) organized a One-Day International Conference on ‘Securing India’s Maritime Neighbourhood- Challenges and Opportunities’. The event was conducted on March 28 2019 at AV Complex, INS Adyar, Chennai.

Inaugural Session

Commodore R. S. Vasan, Indian Navy (Retd.), Director, C3S, gave the Welcome Address. He outlined the activities of C3S, adding that the think tank in 2018 has been ranked top 40th out of 90 think tanks in India, China, Japan and South Korea. This ranking was awarded by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Programme (TTCSP), University of Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, AVSM & Bar, VSM Indian Navy (Retd.), Director General, NMF, gave the Keynote Address. Insights were presented on the need for geo-strategy in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and that the word “geo” has been used incorrectly by many academics and research scholars. Since India shares common territorial boundaries with many countries and is proximal to other states across the seas, it is crucial for the Indian Navy to have an enhanced presence in the Indian Ocean Region especially in the Bay of Bengal because China could easily exploit the region to reach the Andaman and Nicobar islands. India’s neighbours, namely China and Pakistan, pose a high level of threat to India’s security. Two fundamental axioms for India’s geo-strategy were outlined. The first one being that India needs to focus on its core national interests and the second is that India can exploit the sea to fulfil its own needs and interests. It was emphasised that it is time for India to focus on the maritime domain.

Ambassador C.V. Ranganathan, IFS (Retd.), former Ambassador of India to China; Vice President, C3S, delivered the Theme Address. Indo-Japanese partnerships were highlighted. India and Japan have enjoyed a good relationship and the diplomatic ties between the two nations have evolved into a “global and strategic partnership”. ​The leaders of both the countries have met to discuss a deep, broad-ranging and action-oriented partnership, reflecting a convergence of their long-term political, economic and strategic goals. India’s growing presence beyond the IOR was emphasized upon, while citing evidence of the country’s relationships with distant neighbourhood nations, such as Australia. India has applied soft power diplomacy and conducted constant joint naval exercises with friendly nations like Japan in order to ensure good relations and prospects overseas. In this manner, it is important to maintain the foundation of diplomatic relationships for India’s security in spite of it being surrounded by seas.

Plenary Session I – Security Dynamics in India’s Maritime Neighbourhood

The first session was chaired by Cmde. R. S. Vasan, Director, C3S. The theme was ‘Securing Dynamics in India’s Maritime Neighbourhood’.

Mr. Rishi Athreya, Consultant, Public Sector Reform and Political Risk; Member, C3S, spoke on “Maritime Diplomacy furthering India’s Maritime Aspirations in IOR”. The speaker underlined the importance of furthering India’s maritime aspirations in the IOR to ensure safety of shipping and citizens from non-traditional threats such as piracy, fishermen problems, drug trafficking and any illegal trade that prevail between the IOR countries. In order to improve India’s presence in the IOR, the Indian Navy performs many tasks such as military and diplomatic actions, implementing bridges of friendship, joint exercises, technical roles, etc. With China having already established itself in the region between Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in the east and Pakistan in the west, there is a possibility of traditional threats that India could face as a result of Chinese expansion in the region. The only way that India can tackle this concern is by exploiting the Indian Ocean Region in an optimum manner and by investing in ports and facilities in other countries.

The next paper was presented on “Political and Strategic Engagement of China in India’s Maritime Neighbourhood” by Cmde. Sushant Dam, Director, Maritime Warfare Centre (Former Naval attaché, Beijing). China’s latest strategic perspectives were detailed, including the country’s strategic moves to expand influence into India’s maritime neighbouthood. Perspectives were offered on the “string of pearls” theory. One aim of China’s close strategic partnership with Pakistan is to indirectly checkmate India in the maritime domain. India has started to deliver a fitting reply which is based on the geo-political theory called the ‘Iron Curtain’. Though China may be strong enough in terms of external security, its biggest challenge is in the internal security domain. President Xi Jinping wants China to achieve prosperity and to improve its military capabilities by 2024. China’s external power is based on strong leadership, quick implementation, economic strength and multiple soft power actors like students and tourists.

Lt. General S. L. Narasimhan, PVSM, AVSM, VSM; Director General, Centre for Contemporary China Studies (CCCS), New Delhi, presented on”Military and Commercial Impact of Chinese MSR Ambitions”. Describing the One Belt One Road, the speaker highlighted what were perceived as the real strategic impetus behind the Chinese actions. It was pointed out that China had to centralise its power in order to expand its influence across the world. The Maritime Silk Road (MSR) aims to connect South East Asia with Europe through the Indian Ocean and was rolled out by President Xi Jinping in late 2013. The MSR is without a doubt a plan that could strengthen China’s naval power & dominance in the IOR. An Indian strategic perspective was given. India is determined to adopt an asymmetrical strategy to secure its dominant position.

Group Capt. Chandrasekaran, IAF (Retd.) spoke on “Integrated Coastal Security Management post Mumbai Terror Attack”. He laid emphasis on how the poor management of maritime security along India’s western coast had allowed for the Mumbai terror attacks to take place in 2008. Big ticket initiatives have been taken to tighten the coastal security. In the aftermath of the attack, 3 tier agreements were made between the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Police in order to increase their interoperability and coordination. This later came to be known as the Coastal Security Scheme. Security initiatives were created in all aspects of maritime security such as a number of coastal radars, automatic identification and promising protocols for the Jawaharlal Nehru port, Mumbai port, etc. Small boats and ships were also developed for ocean security in order to provide new type of vehicles for general security purposes and the Coast Guard. The speaker stated that the Indian Navy personnel lacked the technical know-how of these types of technologies. Due to this, limited staff appointments had been made.

Plenary Session II- Security, Stability and Prosperity Dynamics

This second plenary session on ‘Security, Stability and Prosperity Dynamics’ was chaired by Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, NMF.

Major General Murali Gopalakrishnan (Retd.), Teaching Research Fellow (TRF), Dept of Defence and Strategic Studies, University of Madras, delivered a presentation on “Kautilya’s Prescription and Relevance for India’s Neighbourhood Management”. He delved into how the evidence in Indian scriptures can be used by researchers and cited Sangam literature as a guide for sea voyages. The ongoing power play in the IOR was discussed. Threats that affect the blue economy, militarization of the IOR and the China factor were highlighted. It was explained how India can enhance its capacity building in the IOR. This is where Kautilya’s prescription bears relevance. It includes capacities consisting of soft power, hard power, smart power on one hand and capability which includes capacity and process, on the other. These can be employed as a guiding tool for India to build capacity. It was suggested that the way forward for India is by not by displaying hegemonic tendencies like China but by contributing as a net security provider.

Dr Yugraj Singh Yadava, Head of Bay of Bengal Programme, Inter Governmental Organization (BOBP-IGO), gave a talk on “Sustainable fisheries and best management practices in Bay of Bengal”. It was stressed how fisheries need to be spoken about in a globalized context and not in isolation. The contribution of fisheries in some countries like Maldives and Indonesia were described. It was stated that India stands alone in subsidies negotiations. China plays a role in subsidies in fisheries.

Captain S. S. Bangara, Independent Maritime Consultant- Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, East Africa; Director, “Tanzania Pacific Logistics Limited”, Tanzania; Director, Bahari Oilfields services FPZ limited, Tanzania, gave a talk on “Mercantile Marine as a Force Multiplier for Prosperity and Security”. It was described how shipping, apart from being the least environmentally damaging form of transportation, is the lifeblood of the global economy. Statistics were given on the contribution of the international shipping industry to trade. According to the speaker, the focus on inland waterways by the Indian government is a welcome move and several statistics were given to support his arguments and claims.

Plenary Session III- Challenges in Immediate and Extended Neighbourhood of India

The third plenary session on ‘Challenges in Immediate and Extended Neighbourhood of India’, was chaired by Dr Yugraj Singh Yadava.

Mr Ram Etwareea, Journalist, Economic & Finance, Ringier Axel Springer Suisse SA Newsroom Le Temps, who is from Mauritius, drew on his experience as a Switzerland-based journalist to detail role of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean Region, in his paper titled “Maritime Race in the Indian Ocean Region: Challenges for Mauritius in Balancing the Power Play between India and China”. The Mauritian angle was described in China’s ‘String of Pearls’, India’s ‘Front Garden’, and the mineral rich Indian Ocean. The island nation has carefully managed thus far to align itself with neither India or China, despite being courted by both.

Mr. N. Sathiya Moorthy, Senior Fellow and Director, Observer Researcher Foundation (ORF) Chennai, spoke on “Maldives and Sri Lanka Factor In India’s Maritime Security Preparedness”. He highlighted that India has much to improve on in terms of its diplomatic attitude and sensitivity, with regards to the concerns and needs of the small nations in its neighbourhood, who could view India as a threat. China is not misguided to have invested large sums of money in these island nations. India must also up its understanding of and diplomatic ties with these nations.

Dr. Binoda Kumar Mishra, Director, Center for Studies in International Relations and Development (CSIRD), brought the session full circle by speaking on “Connectivity for Leveraging Security, Stability and Prosperity in India’s Neighbourhood”. The Belt – Road Initiative is not a one off – it is part of a continuous initiative by China to achieve global dominance by 2049, the centenary of their communist revolution. In fact, even if only 30% of China’s projects are fulfilled, China will still achieve strategic dominance. This is more than likely to happen. In this context, similar projects for India, such as its Look East, Act East policy, or BIMSTEC, have not received the attention required to make them effective. Efficient mechanisms to foster connectivity are already in place. It is merely a matter of implementing them.

Plenary Session III- Young Minds’ Outlook on India, China and Maritime Security

This session of the conference was dedicated to offering a platform to the young minds of C3S to present their research and analysis. It was chaired by Mr. Aravindhan., Research Officer, C3S; UGC- JRF.

Mr. Rahul Reddy, Research Officer, C3S spoke on “Extra – Regional Presence in India’s Maritime Neighbourhood: Assessment of Impact”. The factors for making decisions against the rise of non-traditional threats in IOR were outlined. Some of these threats include, sea piracy, drug trafficking, state sponsored terrorism, etc. Recently, China has been active in the IOR in the name of anti-piracy counter measures near Somalia. China’s anti-piracy mission has gradually increased the country’s dominance in the Indian Ocean rim. China tries to keep its Navy’s morale high and engage in further exploitation of the seas.

Ms Lakshya Anand, High Court, Chennai; Member, Young Minds of C3S, spoke on “Challenges of Implementing UNCLOS and Anti-Piracy Laws in India’s Maritime Neighbourhood”. She provided the audience with details on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and also maritime laws in the Indian Ocean, with examples of fishermen caught in the maritime disputes between India and Sri Lanka. The issue related to the Island of Katchatheevu was underlined. According to the agreement made in 1976, Sri Lanka took over this island but ethnic fishermen claimed that the island belonged to them. The High Court order stated that the land has to be taken by the central government and they were also charged with solving the issues diplomatically. To this day, the island remains under the control of Sri Lanka.

Valedictory Session

The Valedictory Address was delivered by IG S. Paramesh, PTM, TM, Commander Coast Guard Region East. He highlighted several challenges facing India in securing maritime stability and connectivity, and also underscored the various initiatives undertaken by the Coast Guard in response to these challenges, as a microcosm of the Indian Government as whole.

The conference concluded with the Vote of Thanks delivered by Cmde. R. S. Vasan, Director, C3S.

(The views expressed during the conference are the speakers’ own.)

(Compiled by Interns of C3S- Anirudh.R.Phadke, M. Mohammed Zaheer and A. Ram Kumar, Students of B.A Defence and Strategic Studies, Guru Nanak College, Chennai; Akanksha Soni and Indira Tirumala, Graduates of B.A Economics, Stella Maris College, Chennai; and Shivani Shankar, Student of M.A International Studies, Stella Maris College, Chennai.)

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