India To Counter China’s Foray In Bay Of Bengal With BIMSTEC Meet

(This was originally posted in The Deccan Herald by Anirban Bhaumik

India To Counter China’s Foray In Bay Of Bengal With BIMSTEC Meet A French naval delegation headed by Rear Admiral Jacques Fayard, French Joint Forces Commander in the Indian Ocean (ALINDIEN) during a meeting with the Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, of the Western Naval Command Vice Admiral Hari Kumar, in Mumbai, Monday, March 29, 2021. India will join its partners in the ‘Quad’ – Japan, Australia, United States and France – in a naval drill in the Bay of Bengal next week, even as it is set to add momentum to its engagements with the countries in the region to counter China.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar is also expected to hold a virtual meeting with his counterparts in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand on Thursday in order to breathe fresh life into the BIMSTEC – a bloc, comprising seven littoral and landlocked countries dependent on the Bay of Bengal. With New Delhi keen to widen its engagements on Indo-Pacific beyond the ‘Quad’, the warships of the Indian Navy will for the first time participate in the “La Pérouse” drill led by the French Navy. The navies of Japan, Australia and the United States are also sending warships for the exercise, which would be held in the Bay of Bengal from April 5 to 7.

“It is no surprise that India and the Indo-Pacific are at the heart of the training for the new generation of French Navy officers,” Emmanuel Lenain, the ambassador of France to India, said on Tuesday. He said that the La Pérouse joint exercise would have two French Navy ships joining the ships from India, Australia, Japan, and the US for “a concrete demonstration of multilateralism at sea” and the “commitment” of the French Government “to a free and open Indo-Pacific”.

The five-nation exercise comes just a few months after India, Japan, Australia, and the US held the “Malabar 2020” naval drill in the Indian Ocean in November and December last year. The four nations added a military heft to the Quad amid the growing belligerence of China, not only along its disputed boundary with India but elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific region too, like in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and the Taiwan Strait. The Quad is a coalition forged by India, Japan, Australia, and the US to create a bulwark of democratic nations to counter the hegemonic moves by China in the Indo-Pacific. It was elevated to the level of the Heads of Governments with its first-ever summit, which was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his counterparts in Japan and Australia – Yoshihide Suga and Scott Morrison – and the US President Joe Biden on March 12 last.

France has substantial geopolitical interests in the western Indian Ocean and southern Pacific, with a large number of its military personnel deployed in the region. The French Government has territorial control over Réunion and Mayotte islands in the Indian Ocean and New Caledonia and French Polynesia in the Pacific. While over 60% of France’s Exclusive Economic Zone is in the Pacific, over 20% is in the Indian Ocean. Djibouti on the Horn of Africa has a base of the French Army. The French Government in the past did not respond positively to the US bid to expand the ‘Quad’, as it was keen to avoid making its strategy for the region look overtly adversarial to China. It, however, of late decided to assert its interests in the region by holding the “La Pérouse” naval drill in the Bay of Bengal jointly with India and other nations in the ‘Quad’. After making a port call in Kochi on the southern coast of India from Tuesday to Thursday, two French Navy ships – Tonnerre and Surcouf – are set to sail to the Bay of Bengal to take part in the La Pérouse exercise. They will continue to sail through the Indo-Pacific region even after the drill, all the way to Japan, before heading back to France to reach home port on July 14, the National Day of France. The ships will sail through the South China Sea twice during their voyage, the Embassy of France in New Delhi stated on Wednesday.

Apart from the naval drill with France, Japan, Australia and the US, India is also set to add momentum to its engagement with the BIMSTEC nations to counter China’s foray into the Bay of Bengal region. Riva Ganguly Das, Secretary (East) at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), had a virtual meeting with her counterparts in the six other member nations of the bloc on Wednesday. This will be followed by a virtual meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the seven nations on Thursday.

New Delhi has since 2016 focused more on rejuvenating the BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) in order to promote regional connectivity initiatives, as similar moves within the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) were blocked by Islamabad. India is keen to promote connectivity projects in and around its neighborhood, ostensibly to counter China’s bid to spread its geostrategic influence in the region through its ambitious Belt-and-Road initiative. China has already embarked on a series of infrastructure projects in the countries in the Bay of Bengal region.

Deccan Herald

Kartik Sud

I am working as a News Author With the DefenceXP network, Observing LOC and LAC

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