Asia’s Great Naval Rivalry: Are these the beginnings of a 21st century cold war ?

Posted: 09/06/2011 in all marine news

Mohan Malik – 

Media reports last week of a Chinese warship confronting an Indian navy vessel in the South China Sea come as that part of the world is the scene of diplomatic tussling. In recent months, the Philippines and Vietnam objected to Chinese harassment of oil exploration vessels and fishermen. Last year, Beijing let it be known that it would not tolerate another maritime power operating in the South China Sea—which its officials have described as a “core interest.”

It is clearer by the day that this trend will lead to some kind of showdown. China’s growing economic strength, military might and hypernationalism at home are spurring actions abroad that bring it into increasingly dangerous conflicts. The best solution to defuse tension would be to get the biggest naval powers in the region together and draw up general rules for sea navigation and commerce.

The Indian ship in question, INS Airavat, was completing a port call in Vietnam, a country that often clashes with China. The two fought a war over unresolved territorial and maritime boundaries in 1979. Vietnam perceives China as an irredentist and expansionist power. It recently has increased coordination, military and diplomatic, with nations that also see China as a threat, to hedge against its neighbor.

India certainly shares Vietnam’s views on China, and has been receptive to Hanoi’s outreach. New Delhi’s relationship with Beijing is scarred by a border war it fought in 1962 and by other unresolved territorial troubles in the Indian northeast. The two also compete for geopolitical influence, especially as they scramble for energy resources. In 2007, Beijing strongly protested a Vietnamese-Indian energy exploration project in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

India is maneuvering for advantage in those spheres of influence that overlap with China. Vietnam could be to India what Pakistan is to China—a friend because it could be the enemy of its enemy.

The geopolitical chess game intensifies as Chinese and Indian navies show off their flags in the Indian and Pacific oceans with greater frequency. India, for one, is wary of leaving its trade and energy supply routes in the Pacific Ocean to the goodwill of China’s navy.

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