In this context, the Asian maritime domain is likely to emerge as an increasingly active theater of inter-state rivalries, given concerns of a strategic void created by a more “hands-off” approach by the U.S., as well as the growing interest of major regional powers to protect their burgeoning seaborne trade and access offshore energy resources. This is already evident in the shifting focal point of regional conflict from the continental to maritime domain, as noted by the contrast between the land wars that dominated Asia during the Cold War – the Korean War (1950-53), Sino-Indian War (1962), Vietnam War (1968-75), Sino-Russian border conflict (1969) and Sino-Vietnamese border conflict (1979)) – and the plethora of maritime territorial disputes that have flared in the post-Cold War period. These include the Sino-Japanese dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands and China’s claim to the “nine-dash line” around the South China Sea, which conflicts with Vietnam’s claim to the Paracel Islands and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei’s claims to portions of the Spratly Islands.
This demonstrates the need for a new maritime architecture led by the region’s major powers. For instance, Indian National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon has proposed a “Maritime Concert” in which the region’s major maritime powers would have collective responsibility to protect the domain. There have already been several demonstrations of this kind of cooperation, including China, India and Japan coordinating their anti-piracy patrols in the Indian Ocean within the framework of the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (SHADE) mechanism, and the establishment of an Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum (EAMF) in 2012.
An expanded maritime role for India is prudent if it is to defend its growing maritime interests amid the country’s emergence as a major trading and resource-consuming power. However, it is also pivotal for protecting the global commons from the growth of inter-state security threats rooted in concerns over China’s rise as a maritime power and an erosion of the United States’ role as the region’s “sea-based balancer,” as well as the proliferation of transnational security threats, including maritime piracy, illicit trafficking, and the latent threat of maritime terrorism. As evidenced by its maritime behavior in the South China Sea, India’s strategic significance in East Asia will be increasingly contingent on its ability to play a constructive maritime role in the region.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Chietigj Bajpaee is a doctoral candidate in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London and a visiting fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation, a New Delhi-based public policy think-tank.