India, China and the Pirates
Image Credit: U.S. Navy

India, China and the Pirates


Relations between India and China look increasingly to be running along two parallel tracks – one of cooperation, the other competition.

While New Delhi and Beijing keep a wary eye on each other’s activities along the border, there’s growing engagement at the highest political and diplomatic levels. For example, Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna made a three-day visit to China last month, meeting key Chinese leaders ahead of the BRICS summit to be hosted by India in April. As The Hindu newspaper reported at the time, “China appears to have laid out the red carpet for Mr. Krishna, arranging four high-level meetings for the minister in one day – a rare occurrence, according to diplomats.”

Krishna held talks with Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang and State Councillor Dai Bingguo, a meeting that followed Dai’s trip to India the previous month. Dai is China’s Special Representative on the boundary talks, and the two countries tooka major confidence building step in January, setting up an institutionalized border mechanism that “allows for real time contact between the two countries’ foreign offices in the event of a border intrusion by either side.”

But high level visits apart, and despite a history of recent diplomatic pin-pricks, Beijing and New Delhi are also quietly cooperating on a number of key global issues, reflected in their common stands on climate change and anti-piracy operations.

At the start of this year, India, China and Japan quietly entered into a mutual arrangement to share their naval assets in the Gulf of Aden for anti-piracy operations. According to an Indian Navy press release: “A Counter Piracy Shared Awareness and De-confliction (SHADE) meeting was established by Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) at Bahrain in 2011, so that the forces deployed for anti-piracy operations could exchange piracy related information over the internet.”

Under the agreement, India, China and Japan decided to share information about their warship movements and escort schedules in the Gulf of Aden. By putting in place this cooperative mechanism, the three Asian giants are hoping to optimize the use of their naval forces to safely escort merchant ships in the piracy-infested corridor.

“Earlier, the convoys [of India, Japan and China] would be bunched almost together in a short time frame  leaving the Gulf of Aden without protection for a large part of the day,” Indian Navy Assistant Chief of Naval Staff Rear Adm. Monty Khanna said during a briefing in New Delhi last month. Khanna said that in contrast, the three countries have now “evolved a mechanism under which it will be ensured that there is enough gap between the Indian, Chinese and the Japanese convoys and they are well-displaced” to be able to escort a greater number of ships in a day.

Since 2008, India has had at least one warship stationed in the Gulf of Aden at any given time, compared to the three vessels reportedly fielded by the Chinese Navy. Japan’s deployment has varied. But with all three economies heavily dependent on keeping the sea lanes safe (the Indian Ministry of Shipping has estimated that Indian imports through the Gulf of Aden route are valued at $50 billion, while exports are worth $60 billion), it was clear that an agreement was necessary to ensure the slow flow of goods.


[...] ambitions as a global power, allowing it not only to show the flag, such as in multilateral anti-piracy missions off the Gulf of Aden, but also to back up its evolving strategic [...]

Emelio Lizardo
December 24, 2012 at 08:43

The better long term solution may be to finance a Somolian coastal patrol.

March 13, 2012 at 14:16

This only fools the Indian english speaking elite. When Sri Lankan navy regularly
kills Indian fishermen along with Italian Merchant ship the Indian navy does not even know how to pin point the position of Italian vessel.It’s coastal radar coverage is so poor. Aircraft carriers, Nuclear submarines but no protection for Indian fishermen? China watches these with lot of humour

March 6, 2012 at 14:25

With so many “international navies” operating in the Indian ocean, it is high time that the Indian navy maintain continuous surveillance and watch over the entire ocean, especially the SLOC. The sustained presence of Chinese naval assets in the Indian ocean will have a deleterious effect in the longer term as it gives China a great excuse to further entrench itself in the Indian Ocean basin and maintain a permanent forward deployed presence in what is essentially India’s sphere of influence.
So while the Chinese actively threaten, intimidate, bully and issue dire predictions about India’s presence in the South China sea, the continued presence of Chinese vessels in the Indian ocean should be offset by increased Indian naval presence in the South China sea. Further, denial of access technologies like Anti-ship ballistic missiles also ought to be actively pursued by India to keep the Chinese navy out of the Indian Ocean basin in the long term while politically keeping the Chinese from acquiring any footholds in the region. With the Chinese building aircraft carriers, it Is only a matter of time before the Indian navy has to contend with a Chinese carrier task force in Indian Ocean apart from the SSBNs and other forward deployed assets already in place.
All this calls for a forward looking strategy to be put in place beyond the action-reaction paradigm in place in Indian strategic circles.

Fu Man-chu
March 6, 2012 at 13:06

if Dai is responsible for the red carpet, then he is a fool and ought to be replaced. The episode is reminiscent of the same foolish behaviour towards Manila after their misbehaviour vis-a-vis the Spratly islands dispute – showing favor and showering gifts and promises to an “errant child”, and predictably getting mud in their face for that “reward”. Why does Beijing insist on indignified upside-down responses? Are the leaders suffering from “Stockholm’s syndrome” from too much emotional, mental and physical abuse during their childhood? What is wrong with the mindset of Beijing?

March 6, 2012 at 11:20

Would there be cry of ‘How dare you with such audacity to become the policeman’?

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