India is playing to the America card of ‘quadrilateral’ power in the Southeast Asian region and in the South China Sea (SCS), which is a departure from the previous U.S. administration under President Barack Obama, but New Delhi will have to thread carefully in these troubled waters.
The South China Sea is basically under the occupation of China, which has successfully pushed away any opposition to its rule in those seas with its heavy presence through the illegal occupation of territories and sea lanes.
The South China Sea is the most militarised waters on earth, with all the super powers hacking through in order to watch what Beijing is doing, and this has not prevented the Chinese from conquering the seas amid wide criticism from some Asean nations and a faint opposition from the USA, Japan and Australia.
In order to strengthen their voice against China, the USA has roped in India’s Narendra Modi in the fanfare.
The Indians are saying that the ongoing activities of ship visits, of coordinated patrols, of exercises that are take place bilaterally, are going very well.
However, they are not disrupting China’s grip on the seas, while they are seen by Beijing as cosmetics compared to its powerful presence in the SCS.
India also believe there is great satisfaction between India and the Asean on issues of defence talks, or navy to navy talks, indicating that several Southeast Asian countries locked in territorial disputes with China have sought even greater Indian engagement in the region.
They also say China’s moves in the SCS has forced the Asean members to look towards India as a partner for equilibrium.
But India, is way behind China having lesser influence in most of the Asean nations and is only a new, smaller player in the Asean. It is trying to build its strategy within the Asean but it appears that China has leap-frogged ahead of New Delhi in this respect.
It is also clear that a great military involvement from New Delhi in the Asean region could provoke a backlash from China, especially if the Indias were to follow the USA in poking their nose in the South China Sea conflict.
And as long as they keep their navy within the Malacca Straits, they will not risk offending China and get their face red on the frontier issues they already have with Beijing.