IPCS Discussion

Securing India's Interests in the Indian Ocean: New Strategies and Approaches

29 Dec, 2014    ·   4789

Teshu Singh reports on the proceedings of the discussion

Teshu Singh
Teshu Singh
Senior Research Officer
The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), in collaboration with the National Maritime Foundation (NMF), has been conducting a series of discussions on the Indian Ocean Region. Based on the insights generated via the discussions, the IPCS hopes to produce a set of policy briefs for India, in 2015. 

To that end, on 2 December, 2014, the fourth round of the IPCS-NMF discussion series, titled ‘Securing Our Interests in the Indian Ocean: New Strategies and Approaches’, was held at the NMF Conference Hall. Five presentations were made, and were followed by a brainstorming session between the panellists and the audience.

‘China’s Endgame’ and the Maritime Silk Road’
Teshu Singh, Senior Research Officer (CRP), IPCS

China is using various tactics in its search for a stable and peaceful environment for its ‘peaceful development’ strategy – and the Maritime Silk Road (MSR) is one of them. Essentially, it is China’s soft power strategy in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Today it has become a major tool of China’s economic and peripheral diplomacy. It is also part of China’s larger strategy to develop extensive transport networks – roads, railway lines, ports and energy corridors. It would further cater to somewhat resolving China’s Malacca Dilemma and help augment the ‘String of Pearls’ strategy. With the US’s ‘pivot to Asia’, China is concerned about its aspiration to become a global power. Additionally, it is not a South Asian power but seeks a presence in the region. Therefore it is using the MSR as a tool to make its presence felt by following a policy whereby it seeks cooperation with the IOR littoral states and making gradual infrastructural investment in these countries – catering to it Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) impasse.

‘Maritime Silk Road’ 
Captain Gurpreet S. Khurana, Executive Director, National Maritime Foundation

In retrospect, one look of the MSR suggests the strategic nature of the proposal. There was a gap between the announcements of the MSR at the Bali summit and the release of the first document in, April 2014, followed by the map in Xinhua newspaper. China is good in strategic communication and it closely follows up each development. Hence, it is pertinent to view the development from the standpoint of this perspective. India has not joined the MSR until now because of its own security considerations. The entire development in the region can be viewed within the framework of the ‘Hub and Spokes’ model.  

‘Towards an Indian Strategy: Maritime Asia/Asian Sea Lane’ 
D Suba Chandran, Director, IPCS

There are multiple developments taking place in the IOR. The increasing Chinese interest and announcement of the MSR is not the only development. There are other parallel developments such as the US’s pivot to Asia and the Indo-Pacific underway in the region. Notably, this signifies the re-emergence of the Indian Ocean or Maritime Asia. In the given scenario, India should pitch in for its own pivot in the region and start looking for regional partners such as Sri Lanka and the Maldives. India can term its pivot in the IOR as ‘Maritime Asia’. As a part of its pivot, India can initiate  the Asian Sea Lane project where in it can work with the IOR littorals and, within the Non-Traditional Security framework, it can forward projects pertaining to ‘Blue Economy’ and ‘Search and Rescue operations’.

‘Maritime Piracy and Terrorism in the Indian Ocean Region: An Overview of Trends, Linkages and Countermeasures’
Aditi Chatterjee, Research Associate, National Maritime Foundation

In the current global environment, non-traditional security challenges such as piracy and maritime terrorism pose serious challenges to national and international stability. These dangers, which cannot be readily defeated by the traditional defences that states have erected to protect both their territories and populaces, reflect the remarkable fluidity that currently characterises world politics. It is a setting in which it is no longer apparent as to who can do what to whom with what means, exactly. The maritime realm is especially conducive to these types of threat contingencies given its vast, largely unregulated, and opaque nature. Since the end of Cold War, the maritime security environment in the IOR has been quite volatile and dynamic. While hard security questions of the maritime domain remain a familiar set of problem for policymakers, they have a much harder time conceptualising non-traditional and transnational security issues of piracy and maritime terrorism that do not respect national boundaries and that transcend institutional and policy stovepipes.  

‘Blue Economy’ 
Dr Vijay Sakhuja, Director, National Maritime Foundation

The concept of ‘Blue Economy’ is being discussed widely. It was discussed at the 22nd APEC Economic Leaders Meeting in Beijing, the 9th East Asia Summit (EAS) and the 36-point Kathmandu Declaration. By discussing it at multiple fora, Asian countries believe they can help highlight the concept and develop a sustainable development of marine resources. The main drivers for blue economy are food chain, sea-based resources, bio-diversity, trade, and tourism. With these drivers in mind India can explore opportunities vis-à-vis blue economy and also the MSR. Furthermore, the IOR littoral countries can come together to deliver the ‘goods at sea’, for the Human Assistance Disaster Relief operations and also ‘Aid to Civil’.


1. The China factor has been overemphasised in the IOR while in fact, the IOR littorals should explore opportunities coupled with it.

2. India and China have similar goals in the IOR. But India is conscious about Chinese activities in the IOR due to its own security considerations. India has launched its own project, titled ‘Mausam’ for the same. Mausam is a Ministry of Culture project with the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA), New Delhi, as the nodal coordinating agency.

3. The MSR project was conceived to bypass all the troubled points in SLOCS. In a multi-polar world, we should not look at it from a fixated point of view. The MSR should also be viewed from broader perspectives.

4. The Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Co-operation did not prosper because of its narrowly focussed objectives. The newly formed Indian Ocean Rim Association should have both economic and political components.

5. Given its geostrategic location, India is in a position to use the entire development in the region utilising the networks of the region.

6. Piracy is an economic phenomenon and its origin can be traced to the poor statuses of the fishermen that forced them to resort to piracy.

Rapporteured by Teshu Singh, Senior Research Officer, CRP, IPCS