News Excerpt
Recently, the navies of China and Pakistan began their sixth bilateral naval exercise, titled Sea Guardians-2020, in the northern Arabian Sea. Such military exercises are expected to strengthen security cooperation between the two countries, who are already “iron brothers.”

•    The “all-weather” relationship between China and Pakistan is centeredaround their common perceptions of seeing a competitor in India.
•    They have a strong military relation to the extent that almost 75% of tanks being used by the Pakistan Army and 65% of the aircraft used by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) were of Chinese origin.
•    China had a vital role in the technology transfer to Pakistan for its nuclear and missile programmes.
•    Pakistan and China have also been working on the production of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) such as Caihong-5 and Wing Loong-I.

Concerns for India
The Exercise took place on India’s west coast which is a critical security area. There are concerns such as:
China Factor:
    In the last few years, China had successfully placed a “String of Pearls” to string together a patronage network of multiple South Asian coastal nations through massive investment spending, focused port development projects, and collaborative naval equipment transfer.
    China will be using these ports for dual use; Hence its surveillance missions cannot be entirely discounted given China’s primary aim to secure its sea lines of communication (SLOCs) in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
    Such exercises increase the PLA Navy’s familiarity and understanding of the operational conditions in this part of the Arabian Sea. If it works, it can be an alternate route for China in the event of a naval blockade by an adversary that closes the Malacca Straits choke point.
    China is also developing artificial islands to extend its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for eg. In Maldives island’s at the northernmost atoll – Ihavanddhippolhu – it has came with a project known as the iHavan project.

India’s Options
    Establish an area of Dominance: Naval Powers likes US (The Eastern Pacific Ocean) and China (South China Sea) have established cushions to avoid anti-access and area denial tactics from adversaries. India should develop a similar outlook to guard against Chinese encirclement of its strategic space.
    Partnering is necessary: For development of a strategic space India must recognize the benefits of partnering with non-residential maritime powers in the Indian Ocean. Therefore, it must not cling on to the non-alignment mentality.  It should shed its traditional strategic reticence and ensure the safety of its own SLOCs.
    Operationalize Logistics Agreements: India should operationalize logistical agreements with France and the United States, in order to upgrade naval relations to gain berthing rights to Diego Garcia, Mayotte Island, and La Réunion, and allow its own bases to be used for logistical support by the French and American navies. Additionally, India can offer similar reciprocal berthing rights to Australia and gain access to its naval base in Cocos Islands.
    Support Stations: Indian need to develop logistical support stations on Assumption Island in the Seychelles and Agalega in Mauritius, also need to build upon its already existing listening post in northern Madagascar. At the same time step up the use of existing berthing rights with Duqm Port in Oman and Maputo in Mozambique.
    Connecting the dots: Connecting these offshore stations with its on-shore naval commands and island-based operating bases will allow the Indian Navy a larger operational expanse beyond its immediate buffer zones. These logistical bases can also enhance India’s capability to establish sea-denial in the Indian Ocean.
    Expansion of Outreach: India’s inability to develop interdependencies with neighboring countries, both economically and strategically, has left a void that China has dutifully fulfilled. Therefore, these moves should be accompanied with counter-theater presence in the Western Pacific, and diplomatic outreach to South Asian nations that are being courted by China.

China and Pakistan have had a decades-long strategic partnership, and they have conducted many military exercises.  But it does appear as if these exercises are now getting more complex and are designed for more than simply symbolic demonstration of China-Pakistan friendship. These bilateral exercises need to be seen also in the context of the recent China-Pakistan-Iran-Russia naval exercise, all of which is likely to worry India as well others such as the United States. The options for India are simple – either it acquiesces to a Chinese hierarchy in the region by letting China encroach upon its sphere of influence, or it takes a stand to preserve its strategic space and counters China’s containment strategy by expanding its nautical reach out.

CPEC, String of Pearls, Malacca Straits, Vanilla Islands