China tightening its grip on Indian Ocean

India remained focussed during the past year on tensions arising from the Pulwama massacre and the retaliatory Balakot Air Strike by Indian Air Force. China has, meanwhile, moved ahead to strengthen its maritime ties with countries across the Indian Ocean. Beijing has augmented its naval strength, with expansion of its submarine fleet and aircraft carriers. Its aim is clearly to strengthen its overall presence in the Indian Ocean.

It is enhancing the capacity of its Djibouti Naval base, on the shores of East Africa, to dock an aircraft carrier there, after launching its second aircraft carrier on December 17. China is set to acquire another five or six aircraft carriers, each capable of carrying up to 36 fighter aircraft. It is also fast augmenting its submarine fleet. These acquisitions will give China the capacity to intervene militarily across the Indian Ocean, in the coming years.

China also displayed its military power in the western Indian Ocean, holding joint naval exercises with its partners last year. China, Russia and Iran held an unprecedented four-day joint naval exercise in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Oman. This followed a meeting between the Presidents of the three countries, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani in Beijing, on June 14, 2019.

The joint naval exercises commenced in the Iranian Port of Chahbahar, which is being expanded by India, for access to landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asia. Given the recent American sanctions imposed by the Trump Administration on Iran, India, which was once one of the largest importers of Iranian oil, has been forced to end oil imports from Iran.

Russia has, however, continued its economic ties with Iran, while China is carefully continuing its economic cooperation with Iran, including limited oil imports.

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