(India and China) are hugely dependent on the petroleum deliveries that course through the gulfs of Aden and Hormuz to their ports. Defending those supplies is one reason both are building bigger and bigger navies. China’s navy, with more than 300 ships, may in fact soon surpass the U.S. as the world’s largest. Beijing is certainly sparing little to stock its ships with armaments. India, in the meantime, is acquiring several nuclear powered submarines to augment its 155 military vessels in the ocean that bears its name.
Already, the naval strategies of New Delhi and Beijing seemed to be focused on each other. China is constructing naval stations and refueling ports around India, including in Burma, Sri Lanka and in India’s nemesis Pakistan; India has transformed a beautiful bay in the southern state of Karnataka into an advanced naval installation. ..
The potential for confrontation is fueled by China’s historical nostalgia. In the 15th century, the Chinese sent seven massive naval and commercial expeditions into the Indian Ocean to extend the prestige and power of the relatively new Ming dynasty. There had not been anything quite like it in history, and the Chinese were recognized as the masters of the ocean. But a change in emperors and national policy curtailed the expensive naval forays after 1433 and China turned inward. As if to declare that centuries-old era over, Beijing staged elaborate celebrations in 2005 to mark the half-millenium anniversary of the first expedition. The Ming voyages are now an inextricable part of Chinese nationalist lore — and its populist claim on the Indian Ocean.
See other CDT posts on Sino-Indian relations.