China fears the Indian military

China and IndiaHow two neighbors compete for the Indian Ocean

A military exercise by the Chinese navy in the Indian Ocean: In recent years, the Chinese state television CCTV has repeatedly published footage showing warships of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) during operations in the waters between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. According to the information, cannon exercises with live ammunition were also carried out and the operational readiness of the teams in the event of an alarm played out.

The presence of Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean has apparently increased in recent years. India, which regards the waters between the Horn of Africa on one side and the Andaman Sea on the other as its own backyard, right up to the entrance to the Strait of Malacca, is concerned. Admiral Sunil Lanba, the former Chief of Staff of the Indian Navy, at an internet-based discussion of the Institute for Chinese Studies in Delhi in October last year:

"There are always six to eight Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean. Three of them are deployed against pirates, including off the Horn of Africa, and three or four are on reconnaissance trips, for espionage in the Andaman Sea or as part of surveys on Sometimes there are even more. In the summer of 2017, 14 to 16 ships of the Chinese Navy were in the Indian Ocean at the same time. "

China has the world's largest fleet

In terms of numbers, the Navy of the Chinese People's Liberation Army now has the largest fleet in the world. Only in the area of ​​ship tonnage, i.e. the size of the ships and the firepower, is the US Navy in first place worldwide and, according to estimates by the "Centers for International Maritime Security", twice as strong as the Chinese.

The People's Republic of China has more than 350 warships, including patrol boats, frigates and destroyers, and more than 50 submarines, according to the latest military and security report from the US Department of Defense. Including at least four nuclear-powered submarines armed with missiles.

This background is part of the Series "Maritime Power Games".
You can also read about this:
Sunday, February 21: Russian interests in the Arctic
Saturday, February 20th: France sets the pace for maritime ambitions in Europe and around the world
Sunday, February 28th: ​​Unsafe trade routes - piracy off the coast of Africa

Two aircraft carriers are now also part of the Chinese navy. In 2012, the Beijing government bought the former Ukrainian aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. Five years later, in 2017, the first aircraft carrier built in China was completed. In 2019 the Shandong was put into operation. It weighs around 70,000 tons and is more than 300 meters long. Space for almost 2,000 crew members and 24 combat aircraft.

(picture alliance / Photoshot) Arms production: "China is expanding its military power"
After the USA, China is the world's largest arms producer. The government in Beijing is about power and influence to shape the world, said security expert Christian Mölling in the Dlf. The US does not rule out a military confrontation with China in the future.

On the deck of the Liaoning, China's head of state and party leader Xi Jinping announced the realignment of the maritime armed forces in front of the crew in April 2018:

"Building a strong navy has been the Chinese nation's dearest desire for generations. And it is the basis for realizing the Chinese dream of national renewal. Building a strong maritime force has never been more important than it is today."

The People's Liberation Army Navy, which is at the head of the naval forces in front of the Coast Guard and the maritime militia, should be expanded to a world-class level, said Xi Jinping.

"We must not slack off in modernizing the People's Liberation Army navy. We must drive the innovation process forward and work courageously to bring the People's Liberation Army navy to world-class level."

China's building of a sea power

The development of a sea power is an important guarantee for the prosperity and economic development of the country. China, as a sea power with more than 18,000 kilometers of coastline and three million square kilometers of sea area, is also exposed to an increasingly fierce battle for the rights of maritime transport, according to the speech that was published on the website of the Chinese People's Liberation Army. By the year 2035, China wants to complete the modernization of its armed forces and achieve the goal of a world-class sea power.

The official figures apparently include internationally controversial sea areas and coastal stretches, including those of the Republic of Taiwan, which is not recognized by most of the member states of the United Nations because of the one-China policy pursued from Beijing, including Germany.

(picture alliance / dpa / Liang Jiahe) Competence center in Constance: Learning to understand China
China's importance as a business partner is growing and growing. In Konstanz they responded: with a China competence center at the University of Technology, Economics and Design. Difficult issues such as human rights are also on the agenda.

According to China expert Andrew Erickson from the US Naval War College in Rhode Island, Xi Jinping has come a lot closer to his dream of a maritime world power. China will use its aircraft carriers strategically, including in the Indian Ocean, said Erickson in a video discussion by the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI).

"It is enough for China to send its first, small aircraft carrier to other waters to fly its flag and make an impression. That has a great symbolic and psychological effect."

India has always been concerned about foreign warships in the Indian Ocean, according to China expert Harsh V. Pant from the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), a political think tank in Delhi. But the presence of the Chinese fleet, which has been increasing for around two decades, has completely changed the scenario for India.

"Militarily, India has always concentrated on its northern borders. The threat from Pakistan and China has always been continental. Now the challenge is becoming maritime and India has to increase the strength of its navy."

India is clearly inferior militarily

Militarily, the Indian Navy is clearly inferior to the Chinese. According to the Ministry of Defense in Delhi, India has 150 warships and submarines, as well as an aircraft carrier. India is therefore relying on close cooperation with its allies, both diplomatically and militarily, said Harsh V. Pant. And I am one of the biggest supporters of the idea of ​​an Indo-Pacific region, which Germany has also joined. An economic and political alliance of the states bordering the Indian Ocean, together with the Southeast and East Asian states, across the Pacific Ocean to America.

"India is trying to bring the Indian Ocean into greater political focus. The idea of ​​the Indo-Pacific gives India more leeway compared to China. In the past, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean were viewed separately, but now India is at the center of the maritime balance of power between Asia and the West, which can increase the pressure on China. "

China's military strategy, published by the state-run Chinese news agency XINHUA, includes the concept of literally "active defense". The armed forces are therefore placed at the service of the strategic goals of the state, with a broad interpretation of what national security means. It is about preventing crises, it says there, and avoiding or winning wars.

China expert Oriana Mastro from the American Enterprise Institute, a US think tank in Washington, believes that there are many reasons for China's growing presence in the Indian Ocean. China’s interests in the Indian Ocean are completely different from those in the South China Sea, which the People’s Republic is one of its primary areas of influence, according to Mastro in a hearing published on the Internet in the US House of Representatives in June last year.

"Under Xi Jinping, China expanded its maritime ambitions beyond the South China Sea. In a white paper in 2019, China first spoke of the transformation of its naval forces. From a Navy to defend so-called near waters to a Navy to protect distant waters The protection of maritime interests was given the same priority as the territorial integrity of the country. In the Indian Ocean, China wants to protect its maritime trade routes as well as its economic and political interests. "

The route is very important for China

China is now more dependent on oil imports from the Gulf States than it was 20 years ago. The routes of the oil tankers for the crude oil needs of the growing Chinese economy run through numerous sea areas: from the Persian Gulf over the Arabian Sea to the southern tip of India, past Sri Lanka and on through the Bay of Bengal, along the Andaman Islands, which belong to India, over the Strait from Malacca to Singapore, from where it goes to the South China Sea. Up to mainland China.

The safety of Chinese oil tankers and container ships along this shipping route, which is vital for China's economy, is the focus of Chinese activities in the Indian Ocean. To secure its trade routes, the People's Republic of China has acquired a number of ports in the Indian Ocean, which are placed like pearls on a string of pearls in the waters between the Horn of Africa and the Strait of Malacca.

The so-called "String of Pearls" is the maritime counterpart to the Chinese Silk Road (Deutschlandradio)

The so-called "String of Pearls", the maritime counterpart to the Chinese Silk Road, includes a large port in Djibouti, in the Gulf of Aden, another in Gwadar, on the south coast of Pakistan, as well as Hambantota, the controversial large port project in Sri Lanka, and Kyaukpyu in Myanmar.

The People's Republic is not only securing its trade routes on the high seas, but also economically - by making neighboring states political and economic partners with investments of billions and generous loans. However, these investments are completely opaque, criticizes Abhijit Singh, an expert on maritime security policy, who also works at the Indian think tank Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in Delhi.

"Nobody knows exactly what the money will be used for in these countries, what is being built there, whether civil or military. And China is doing it very smartly, without causing a stir. It all looks very calm in the Indian Ocean, but it is sinking the surface of the water is boiling tremendously. "

India is increasingly relying on economic partnerships

To counter the expansion of rival China, India has not only pushed ahead with its economic partnerships and upgraded its military forces, but has also stepped up its diplomatic efforts. In view of its central location and a coastline of more than 7,500 kilometers on the Indian Ocean, India is particularly interested in close cooperation with the other neighboring countries, emphasized Defense Minister Rajnath Singh. This is the only way to secure the future for the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), said Singh at a closed meeting of the defense ministers of the Indian Ocean countries in Bangalore, southern India, at the beginning of February. And he offered the neighboring countries the most modern weapon systems:

"India is ready to supply its neighbors around the Indian Ocean with various missile systems, helicopters, transport aircraft, warships and patrol boats, as well as artillery systems, tanks, radars and other electronic weapon systems."

The US is also concerned about the changed security situation in the Indian Ocean. China's increasing presence could pose a threat to US interests, said Oriana Mastro, a China expert at the US think tank American Enterprise Institute, during a video hearing in the US House of Representatives.

(picture alliance / Kyodo) Beijing's Imperialism: The Conflict in the South China Sea
The South China Sea is the scene of increasing international tensions: China claims most of the region for itself, which is controversial in the neighboring countries. The conflict is about fishing grounds, oil and gas reserves - and the control of one of the most important shipping routes in the world.

"China's policy in the Indian Ocean is somewhat looser than, for example, in the South China Sea. In the Indian Ocean, the People's Republic has no direct rivals and no territorial conflicts. But by converting the Chinese war fleet into a protective fleet for the Chinese trade routes, the warships are being equipped with far-reaching weapons and air defense systems for missions far from home ports. This could put smaller countries in the Indian Ocean into a threat situation in the future. In addition, with the help of these ships China could collect information on US ship movements and in the event of a possible conflict, US positions in Bring danger. "

The new US administration under President Joe Biden positions itself clearly on the side of India. India is the US's most important partner in the Indo-Pacific region, said State Department spokesman Ned Price at a press briefing in Washington in early February. The US welcomed India's role as a global power factor and security guarantor in the region.

Diplomatic relations between India and China are strained

Diplomatic relations between India and China have long been strained. And the Trump administration has always been on India's side. For about a year now, a land border conflict between the two countries has escalated. It's about the Himalayan mountains. There have been several clashes between Indian and Chinese border troops there in the past few months.

In June last year, armed clashes on the Galwan River left both sides dead and injured. There is no official state border between India and China in the Himalaya Mountains, instead there are several lines drawn by the British colonial rulers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Among other things, the course of the so-called Line of Actual Control (LAC) is controversial. It separates the north and northeast of India from the Chinese-controlled Tibetan Autonomous Region. In the dispute over the course of the LAC, both countries waged a war at the end of 1962, which ended with a ceasefire but not with a peace treaty.

(imago stock & people) Border conflict in the Himalayas: Cold War between India and China
For years there has been a dispute over the borderline between the Indian high mountain territory of Ladakh and the Chinese-controlled autonomous region of Tibet. Dozens of soldiers were last killed in clashes along the unofficial border line in June. The people in Ladakh fear an escalation.

These territorial uncertainties on land are also noticeable on the high seas. China's military presence in the Indian Ocean reinforces the sense of threat that India already has. The People's Republic of China, which has been striving for the top as a political and economic power factor and military counterweight to the global superpower USA for years, is viewed with suspicion not only by India but also by many countries in the western world. The transatlantic alliance must react to this, said Chancellor Angela Merkel at the virtual Munich security conference on February 19:

"On the one hand, China is a systemic competitor; on the other hand, we need China to solve global problems such as climate protection and biodiversity. And China has also gained in global clout in recent years. And we have to as a transatlantic alliance and as democracies to counter the world with action. "

This also applies to the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean. Together with the USA and Japan, India held the annual joint sea maneuver in the Indian Ocean in October last year, for the first time with the participation of the Australian Navy. The so-called Malabar Exercise was launched in 1992 as a joint exercise between India and the USA. Japan has been there since 2015 and now Australia too.

Multinational exercise in the Indian Ocean

There was another multinational naval exercise in the Indian Ocean earlier this year. To be precise, in the Arabian Sea, off the west coast of India. The news agencies Reuters and AP distributed footage of the sea maneuver, in which numerous destroyers and frigates were used.

Warships and military representatives from 45 countries, including China, Great Britain and the USA, took part in the AMAN 2021 military exercise. For the first time, Russia was also involved with ships from its Black Sea fleet.

The maneuver, which has been taking place for 15 years, was hosted by Pakistan. Pakistan's archenemy India was not among them.The feeling of threat from foreign warships off its coasts is likely to have increased in India as a result.