External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has said it is “very reasonable” for India to “actually prepare” for a far greater Chinese presence than seen before in the Indian Ocean, asserting that the concerns in the strategically important region will be better addressed if the Quad countries work together.
“Pearls look benign unless you ask the oysters. They may have a slightly different perspective,” Mr Jaishankar said at the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday.
He was asked about growing Chinese activity in the Indian Ocean region, described as the “string of pearls”, and what the Quad grouping of India, the US, Australia and Japan should do to ensure that the balance of power does not shift in a way that would be adverse to India or the US.
Mr Jaishankar said if one were to look at the last 20-25 years, there’s been a steady increase in the Chinese naval presence and activity in the Indian Ocean.
“But there’s been a very sharp increase in the size of the Chinese navy. So when you have a very much bigger navy, that navy is going to be obviously visible in terms of its deployment somewhere,” he said, citing the examples of Chinese port-building in Gwadar in Pakistan and Hambantota in Sri Lanka.
“Now in many cases, I would say, looking back, maybe the governments of the day, the policymakers of the day, perhaps underestimated the importance of this and how these ports could work in future,” Mr Jaishankar said.
“Each one is a little unique in a way. And certainly, we obviously do watch many of them very carefully for any security implications that they have for us. So, from an Indian point of view, I would say it’s very reasonable for us…to not try and prepare but actually prepare for a far greater Chinese presence than we have seen before,” he said.
S Jaishankar pointed out that maritime concerns are not necessarily today between two nations and there are maritime issues for countries to deal with.
There are maritime threats of piracy, smuggling, terrorism and “if there is no authority, no monitoring, no force out there to actually enforce the rule of the law, it’s a problem,” he said.
The minister said if one looks at what historically used to be the American presence in the Indian Ocean, it is much less so today.
“So what it has done is, it has left gaps and it has left gaps at a time when threats have actually increased because the problem forces in a way, the problem people, actually are much more technologically adept than they were before,” he said.
S Jaishankar noted that there are global commons in the Indian Ocean region to be safeguarded and “there are concerns out there which are better addressed if the Quad countries work together”.
“Times have changed, force levels have changed, capabilities have changed, and certainly in those that have gone up, China is one of them. But there are countries with which we work and there are countries with which we don’t or we work less,” he said.
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