China has added 80 new ships in the last five years to bolster its naval capability and the Chinese Navy is a force which is “here to stay”, Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba said on Wednesday, amid concerns over Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.
Admiral Lanba, while participating in a panel discussion at the Raisina Dialogue along with top Navy officials from the US, France, Japan and Australia, also said no navy has grown so rapidly in the last 200 years as the Chinese Navy.
“There is no doubt that they are spending a huge sum of money in developing their military capability, modernizing their forces, and modernising their command structure,” Admiral Lanba said.
“Chinese Navy is a force and it is a force that is here to stay,” he said.
Since 2008, there has been a permanent presence of the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean region in the form of an anti-piracy escort force, he said.
At any given time, there are six to eight Chinese Navy ships in the northern part of the Indian ocean, the Indian Navy chief said.
“Also, two years ago they commissioned their first overseas facility or base in Djibouti. The stated aim of this deployment is to protect their trade which is flowing through this area from piracy. They have deployed submarines for anti-piracy operations which is the most unlikely platform to be used for this role,” he said.
Admiral Philip S Davidson, Commander, US Info-Pacific Command, during the session, said the command”s name was changed to Info-Pacific as the concept captures the shift in economic and military reality.
In response to a question on the Quad –comprising the US, India, Australia and Japan– being seen as a strep to contain China, he said the Info-Pacific policy does not represent a containment policy.
“We are not asking the people to choose between us and China,” Admiral Davidson said.
Navy Chief Lanba said the Quad comprised nations that stand for inclusive, free, rules-based order and commitment to honour international rules and agreements.The Quad would grow with time, he said.
To a question on growing Chinese presence in the Indo-Pacific, France’s Navy Chief Admiral Christophe Prazuck said, “We are observing and monitoring the change in the strategic landscape of the oceans. The Chinese Navy is growing rapidly.”
Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano, Chief of Staff, Joint Staff, Japan Self Defence Forces, said Japan has “serious conflicts” with China in the East China Sea, especially the Senkaku Islands.
“I have to admit that the activities of the Chinese air force and navy in the region have heightened,” he said.
“However, we (China and Japan) have signed a maritime and aerial communication memorandum. We are also looking at a visit of defence ministers,” he said..
On sharing the burden with the US in the Info-Pacific, Admiral Kawano said Japan has strict limitations under its Constitution.
“We understand that we must share some of the military burden with the US. We have already attempted to amend our laws to allow for collective self defense,” he said.
General Angus Campbell, Chief of Defense Forces of Australia, also acknowledge that there is uncertainty about China”s growth, expanding capabilities and presence in the waters.
“Australia prefers to work with coalitions of nations to create a better security order. Building an Indo-Pacific community is a multi-faceted effort,” he said.
Admiral Davidson said alliances and partnerships are critical to the security of the Indo-Pacific.
On India’s relationship with the US, Admiral Lanba said the two countries have been collaborating with each other for decades now, specially the US Navy and the Indian Navy.
“We started exercising with each other way back in 1993. Our exercise Malabar now includes Japan in it. The scale and complexity of the exercise has grown over the years,” he said.
Noting that India and the US have signed critical defence agreements such as the LEMOA and COMCASA, he said bilateral ties were robust and expected to grow with time.