New Delhi: Amid the ongoing stand-off with China, India will host the defence ministers of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) for a conclave on 4 February, focusing on security concerns and collaborative efforts. India also hopes to sell some indigenously developed defence equipment to the countries of the IOR.
Sources in the defence and security establishment said the conclave will be part of the Aero India event scheduled next month in Bengaluru, and its theme will be ‘Enhanced peace, security and cooperation in the Indian Ocean’. Invites have been sent out to 28 countries with the option of attending physically or virtually, with sources labelling the conclave a ‘hybrid’ event.
The conclave will be followed by two seminars by the Indian Navy and the Department of Defence Production.
The IOR is of strategic importance to India, which sees the region as a natural extension of its sphere of influence, the sources said. India has gone from calling itself the next “security provider” in the IOR to the “preferred security partner”.
China’s expanding footprint
The IOR is a geographical construct bound by Africa to the west, Asia to the north and east, and Australia to the South East. The region produces more than 40 per cent of the world’s offshore petroleum, and is home to rapidly growing economies.
A paper published in 2017 by think-tank Vivekananda International Foundation on China’s expanding maritime footprint in the IOR had said: “The Indian Ocean will loom large in Chinese strategic thinking well into the future, considering their current interests and their continuing ingress into newer regions. While Chinese strategic analysts may profess the absence of an enunciated strategy for the IOR, the signs are there for everybody to see.”
The paper added: “The replication of the aggressive Chinese actions as witnessed in the South China Sea may not fructify in the immediate future, but the potential could rise with development of suitable military capabilities.”
The defence ministers’ conclave comes amid China’s increasing forays into the IOR and continued mapping of the seabed to help its submarine activities. As the India-China stand-off continues in Ladakh, both countries have made heavy deployments in the IOR to keep an eye on each other.
Lt Gen. S.K. Saini, the vice chief of the Indian Army, had said in December that India’s dominant position at the geographical centre of the Indian Ocean as well as its robust economy and global standing as an upholder of law and democratic values placed it in a firm position to play a vital role in the quest for peace and stability in the region.
With China flexing its muscles in the IOR, India plans to use the defence ministers’ conclave to showcase the defence products it has developed. Sources said one of the focus areas during the Aero India show will be indigenous defence equipment that India is now looking at exporting to friendly countries.
A source said India sees IOR countries as a priority area, as they face “a lot of the same security challenges as India”.
A second source said, “India is now developing and designing defence equipment. From fast patrol vessels to frigates and air defence systems like Akash, India understands the importance of having a strong deterrence capability. The IOR countries can benefit from this.”
ThePrint had, in August last year, reported that the Narendra Modi government is looking at countries in the IOR and Africa to push for the export of indigenous defence systems.
A country-wise profile is being prepared to understand what each country needs and how Indian products can be pushed.
A source had said at the time that a number of countries are looking at various military systems, and not all of them have the capability to procure from Western countries that are global defence exporters.