NEW DELHI: Despite hostilities on a host of issues including Arunachal, Tibet, Pakistan and stapled visa, China and India will hold bilateral maritime dialogue as early as in the middle of March to boost mutual trust in maritime cooperation. Only earlier this week the decision to hold such a dialogue was taken during a meeting between Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi.
Jiechi was in India on an official visit earlier this week in the run up to the BRICS summit to be held in New Delhi in March end. Krishna said India gives priority to expanding its relations with China and is committed to developing strategic and cooperative partnership between the two countries.
The maritime cooperation will involve both country’s coast guards, navies and air forces to undertake joint operations against pirates. It will also include sharing technological know-how on seabed research.
The maritime cooperation dialogue should be seen as a major confidence-building exercise between the two Asian powers since both are emerging naval powers and have de facto conflicting interests in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea.
Though Beijing has a powerful military and is focusing on its naval power, India’s central location in Indian Ocean makes it a major stakeholder in the region’s security and stability.
In early February this year Indian Navy held a six-day multi-nation exercise off the strategic Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal along with 14 other countries of the Asia-Pacific. Warships and delegations from the region took part in what was termed the “Milan” exercise. It focused on countering maritime terrorism, piracy and poaching as well as search and rescue operations and capacity building. The participants included Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, the Philippines, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Maldives, the Seychelles and Mauritius.
Officially Milan was a biennial conglomeration of Asia-Pacific navies, hosted by the Indian Navy, to foster bonds of ‘friendship across the seas.’ Nonetheless the very fact that most of the participating countries are members of ASEAN, many of whom are involved in rivalry with Beijing in the South China Sea, makes it obvious that Milan has China’s increasing influence as one of its targets.
The sea lanes around Malacca Strait host around 60,000 ships every year transporting around 30 percent of the world trade in goods. The speed at which the maritime cooperation talks have come is understandable. A hostile India in the Indian Ocean, chances of which are very unlikely, has the potential to create serious troubles for China.
Even then, the speed at which both countries have move on maritime dialogue is especially interesting both have been negotiating to settle their long border dispute for the last nearly 10 years without any concrete result. The recently held 15th round of border talks with Beijing in New Delhi nearly failed due to Chinese Special Representative Dai Bingguo’s insistence that India first settle the Arunachal issue.