Seminar on India-China Maritime Cooperation
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The VIF organised a Seminar on ‘India-China Maritime Cooperation’ in collaboration with a few Chinese think tanks namely, Naval Research Institute of PLAN, the National Institute for South China Sea Studies (NISCSS) and the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, Chinese Academy Of Social Sciences (CASS) on 16 and 17 May 2016.

The event was a first of its kind in the maritime sphere hosted by the VIF and was intended to be an ‘ice-breaker’ for more such interactions in the future. India has historically and culturally occupied the centre stage in the Indian Ocean while China has played an important role in the Pacific. Current geopolitical and economic interests coupled with an increased Chinese presence in the IOR, have led to competition, which has the potential to affect future stability in the region. The event was therefore aimed at understanding Indian and Chinese approaches to the oceans so as to find common ground for cooperation.

The Seminar was structured in four sessions spread over a day and a half. The Chinese participants are renowned in their field, coming as they did, from the foremost institutes on maritime thought in China. Each session had one/two speakers from China and India on the subjects which are given below:-

Session 1/16 May - Strategic Interests in the Ocean

Session 2/16 May - Economic Interests in the Indo-Pacific

Session 3/16 May - Maritime Security Concerns

Session 4/17 May - Prospects for India-China Cooperation

With General NC Vij, Director, VIF, in the Chair, extensive discussions were held across a host of maritime issues, including provisions of the UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) that deal with rights of freedom of navigation and settlement of maritime jurisdictional disputes, China’s Maritime Silk Route initiative – which by some is viewed as part of a larger Chinese naval strategy to ramp up its presence in the Indian Ocean and beyond. Key participants to the seminar included: Dr. Wu Shicun (President, National Institute for South China Sea Studies, China), Mr. Ye Hailin (Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social sciences), Mr. Zhang Junshe (Senior Researcher, Naval Research Institute of Chinese PLA Navy), Ms. Yan Yan (Deputy Director, Research Center for Oceans law and Policy, NISCSS), Dr. Hong Nong (Executive Director & Senior Fellow, Institute China-America Studies, USA), Dr. Saurabh Gupta ( Institute for China-America Studies, USA) Amb Ashok Kantha (VIF), Vice Admiral Anup Singh (VIF), Dr. Sanjaya Baru (VIF), Vice Admiral AK Chopra (VIF) and Commodore Gopal Suri (VIF).

The opening session brought to the fore the maritime interests of both the countries, not only in the Indian Ocean, but the larger Indo-Pacific. The absence of a clear Chinese strategy for the Indian Ocean was highlighted by the Chinese interlocutors though some of their recent actions, especially the acquisition of land in Djibouti for a logistics base and submarine deployments to the IOR, have seemed to indicate otherwise. Both sides also emphasized on the importance of the SLOCs in the IOR which are the lifelines of the world’s seaborne trade. The session also witnessed extensive deliberations on the current situation in the South China Sea and Chinese policy of construction as also the much talked about Philippines vs China case in the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The economic importance of the maritime sphere was the focus of discussions in the second session with the Blue Economy finding centre stage. India’s dependence on seaborne trade and the Chinese OBOR initiative were discussed in detail to determine common ground for cooperation. Maritime security concerns of both the nations, who have a great stake in the stability of the IOR, included common issues like piracy and threats to the SLOCs were deliberated upon. Concerns on account of each country’s actions, in the IOR and the larger Indo-Pacific, were highlighted to understand each other’s approach to the oceans. The seminar ended with some recommendations being made by both the Indian and Chinese interlocutors on finding common ground for cooperation in the sphere of maritime activity.

The interaction however succeeded in underlining the need for both countries to be sensitive to each others’ interests. While both sides felt there is need to reduce the level of mistrust between the two countries, they also underlined creating Maritime CBMs (Confidence Building Measures) with institutionalized mechanism for regular exchanges, hotlines and pre-notification of warships entering each other’s territorial waters, among others, could be seen at the start of a template for bilateral maritime cooperation between two maritime powers. Besides, greater interaction between think tanks is also crucial to reducing the level of perceptional differences on a number of key issues. The most important takeaway for the participants was the need for both countries to exercise restraint and work within their own spheres of influences, a clear division of labour in so far as the Indian and the Pacific Oceans are concerned.

Event Date 
May 16, 2016
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