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Is China opening up Indian Ocean front?

At least fifteen Chinese ships have been spotted in the Indian Ocean area by India's satellites during the last few months even as the armies of both the countries are engaged in an eyeball to eyeball confrontation in the tri junction of India-Bhutan and China for the last one week.

China has built ports in Colombo and Gwador in Pakistan and had parked its nuclear submarine in Hambantata port in Sri Lanka recently. It is also building a port at Hambantata.

Chinese naval activities in the Indian Ocean area have increased in the last few months ever since New Delhi had taken a stand against that country in South China Sea issue.

In the Indian Ocean, a Chinese Yuan-class conventional submarine is also prowling the waters, after an operational turnaround in Karachi and backed by support vessel Chongmingdao, since April. This is the one of the several Chinese submarines to enter the region.

A Chinese surveillance ship is also reported to have entered Indian Ocean region last week probably to snoop on the India-US-Japan Malabar naval exercise in the Bay of Bengal from next week. India Japan and United States have been conducting these naval exercises for the last few years and Australian navy is expected to join from next year.

China has deployed such ships in the past also to keep tabs on the Malabar exercise, which it suspects is a naval grouping aimed to contain its growing influence. US suspects that China could block energy supplies to Japan and South Korea which is sourced in Persian Gulf countries and had to pass through Indian Ocean region before entering Malacca Straits.

The fast pace of construction of the Chinese base and support facility at Djibouti and Gwador near the Persian Gulf will only add to its capability to sustain its naval units in the IOR. China is also on look out for some islands near Myanmar to keep an eye on the Indian naval establishment in Andaman Nicobar islands.

With China intensifying its presence in Indian Ocean Region, the early completion of Sethusamudram Ship Canal project has become imperative from India's security stand point. As of now entire Indian coast, South of Rameshwaram Islands can be reached only by circumnavigating through Sri Lanka. There are important installations like Tuticorin Port and Kudangulam nuclear power station.

The Sethu Ship Canal project which facilitates direct movement of ships fron Chennai to Kanyakumari was called off several years ago on Ram Setu issue. Supreme Court had asked the shipping ministry to consider an alternative route but had not stayed the project.

Eight years have passed and the Shipping Ministry is yet to submit an alternative route to the Apex Court. Central government had spent nearly Rs one thousand crores on the project when it was called off.


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