Category Archives: Indo-Asia-Pacific

Chinese Maritime Strategy for the Indian Ocean

China’s Defense & Foreign Policy Week

By David Scott

Chinese maritime strategy for the Indian Ocean reflects a couple of simple inter-related planks; espousal of a “two ocean” navy and espousal of the Maritime Silk Road. 2017 has witnessed important consolidation of each maritime plank. Each plank can be looked at in turn.

“Two Ocean” Navy

In expanding naval operations from the South China Sea and Western Pacific into the Indian Ocean, China is pursuing a “two-ocean” (战略, liang ge haiyang) strategy. This is the manifestation of China’s new strategy of “far-seas operations” (远海作战, yuanhai zuozhan) endorsed since the mid-2000s, to be achieved through deployment and berthing facilities across the Indo-Pacific, in part to meet energy security imperatives and thereby achieve “far seas protection” (远海护卫, yuanhai huwei) and power projection by the Chinese Navy. This shift from “near sea” to “far sea” is the decisive transformation in Chinese maritime thinking; “China’s naval force posturing stems from a doctrinal shift to ocean-centric strategic thinking and is indicative of the larger game plan of having a permanent naval presence in the Indian Ocean.”1 This naval force posture has brought Chinese naval operations into the eastern and then western quadrants of the Indian Ocean on an unprecedented scale in 2017.

In the eastern quadrant of the Indian Ocean, February 2017 witnessed the Chinese cruise missile destroyers Haikou and Changsha conducting live-fire anti-piracy and combat drills to test combat readiness. Rising numbers of Chinese surface ship and submarine sightings in the eastern quadrant of the Indian Ocean were particularly picked up in India during summer, a sensitive period of land confrontation at Doklam – e.g. Times of India, ‘Amid Border stand-off, Chinese ships on the prowl in Indian Ocean,’ July 4; Hindustan Times, ‘From submarines to warships: How Chinese navy is expanding its footprint in Indian Ocean’, July 5. This Chinese presence included Chinese surveillance vessels dispatched to monitor the trilateral Malabar exercise being carried out in the Bay of Bengal between the Indian, U.S., and Japanese navies, which represents a degree of tacit maritime balancing against China. Chinese rationale was expressed earlier in August by the Deputy Chief of General Office of China’s South Sea Fleet, Capt. Liang Tianjun, who said that “China and India can make joint contributions to the safety and security of the Indian Ocean,” but that China would also not “be obstructed by other countries.” India is increasingly sensitive to this presence (Times of India, ‘Chinese navy eyes Indian Ocean as part of PLAs plan to extend its reach,’ 11 August) in what India considers to be its own strategic backyard and to a degree India’s ocean for it to be accorded pre-eminence. In contrast, China’s growing maritime presence in the Indian Ocean lends maritime encirclement to match land encirclement of India.

In the western quadrant of the Indian Ocean, another first for Chinese deployment capability was in August when a Chinese naval formation consisting of the destroyer Changchun, guided-missile frigate Jingzhou, and the supply vessel Chaohu conducted a live-fire drill in the waters of the western Indian Ocean. The reason given for the unprecedented live fire drill was to test carrying out strikes against “enemy” (Xinhua, August 25) surface ships. The “enemy” was not specified, but the obvious rival in sight was the Indian Navy, which was why the South China Morning Post (August 26) suggested the drill as “a warning shot to India.” Elsewhere in the Chinese state media, Indian concerns were brushed off (Global Times, ‘India should get used to China’s military drills,’ August 27). Finally in a further development of Chinese power projection, in September a “logistics facility” (a de facto naval base) for China was opened up at Djibouti in September, complete with military exercises carried out by Chinese marines.

The Maritime Silk Road

At the 19th Party Congress held in October 2017, the Congress formally wrote into the Party Constitution the need to “pursue the Belt and Road Initiative.” The “Road” refers to the Maritime Silk Road (MSR) initiative pushed by China since 2013, with the “Belt” referring to the overland land route across Eurasia. The MSR is a maritime project of the first order, involving geo-economic and geopolitical outcomes in which Chinese maritime interests and power considerations are significant. May 2017 saw the high-level Belt and Road Forum held in Beijing, focusing on the maritime and overland Silk Road projects. A swath of 11 Indian Ocean countries participating in the MSR were officially represented, including Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia (President), Iran, Kenya (President), Malaysia (Prime Minister), the Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan (Prime Minister), Singapore, and Sri Lanka (Prime Minister).

Major nodes and hubs of China’s One Belt, One Road project. (

On 20 June 2017, China unveiled a White Paper entitled Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative. This vision document was prepared by China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the State Oceanic Administration (SOA). It was classic win-win “pragmatic cooperation” involving “shelving differences and building consensus. We call for efforts to uphold the existing international ocean order.” This ignored China’s refusal to allow UNCLOS tribunal adjudication over its claims in the South China Sea.

The MSR presents a vision of interlinked ports and nodal points going across the Indian Ocean. The significance of the MSR is that China can expect to be involved in a three-fold fashion. Firstly in infrastructure projects involved in building up the nodal points along these waters that was alluded to in the Vision document by its open aim to “promote the participation of Chinese enterprises in such endeavors” and which could “involve mutual assistance in law enforcement.” Secondly, Chinese merchant shipping is growing greater in numbers, and thirdly, deploying naval power to underpin these commercial interests and shipping.

This pinpointing of ports across the Indian Ocean reproduces the geographical pattern of the so-called String of Pearls framework earlier mooted in 2005 by U.S. analysts as Chinese strategy to establish bases and facilities across the Indian Ocean – a chain going from Sittwe, Chittagong, Hambantota, and Gwadar. China of course consistently denied such a policy, but its drive during the last decade has been to establish a series of port use agreements across the Indian Ocean, now including infrastructure and facilities agreements at Mombassa and Djibouti.

Chinese penetration of ports around the Indian Ocean rim gathered pace during 2017. September saw Myanmar agreeing to a 70 percent stake for the China International Trust Investment Corporation (CITIC) in running the deep water port of Kyauk Pyu. The port is the entry point for the China-Myanmar oil and gas pipeline. CITIC is a state-owned company, and so represents deliberate central government strategy by China. In July Sri Lanka agreed to a similar 70 percent stake for the China Merchant Port Holdings (CMPH) in the Chinese-built port of Hambantota on a 99-year lease. CMPH is another state-owned company, and so again represents deliberate central government strategy by China.

Gwadar, nestled on the Pakistan coast facing the Arabian Sea, has been a particularly useful “pearl” for China. Built with Chinese finance, it was significant that its management was taken over by the China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC) for a 40 year period in April 2017. This is deliberate strategy on the part of the Chinese government, given that COPHC is another state-run entity. The Chinese Navy has started using Gwadar as a regular berthing facility, in effect a naval base established for the next 40 years. Gwadar is also strategically significant for China given its role as the link between maritime trade (i.e. energy supplies from the Middle East) and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which is set to improve infrastructure links between Pakistan and China.

From a strategic point of view, China’s use (and control?) of Gwadar and Kyauk Pyu will enable China to address its present vulnerability, the so-called Malacca Dilemma, whereby Chinese energy imports coming across the eastern Indian Ocean into the Strait of Malacca, could be cut either by the U.S. Navy or the Indian Navy.

It is significant that although India has been invited to join the Maritime Silk Road (MSR) initiative, India has avoided participation. Its absence at the Belt and Road Forum held in Beijing in May 2017 was conspicuous. The official explanation for this Indian boycott was China’s linking of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (which goes through Kashmir, a province in dispute between India and Pakistan) to the MSR initiative. In practice, India is extremely wary of the whole MSR initiative. Geographically, the MSR initiative surrounds India, and geopolitically Indian perception tends to be that it is but another Chinese way to encircle India. China of course denies any such encirclement strategy, but then it would deny such a policy anyhow.

The geo-economics of the Maritime Silk Road present China with interests to gain, maintain, and defend if need be. How can China defend such interests? Ultimately, through the Chinese Navy.

A More Powerful Navy

Chinese maritime strategy (a “two ocean” navy) is not likely to change, what will change is China’s ability to deploy more powerful assets into the Indian Ocean. This was evident at the 19th Party Congress. The formal Resolution approving Xi Jinping’s Report of the 18th Central Committee included his call to “build a powerful and modernized […] navy.” 2017 has seen Chinese naval capabilities accelerating in various first-time events.

One indicator of capability advancement was the unveiling in June at Shanghai of the Type 055 destroyer, the Chinese Navy’s first 10,000-ton domestically designed and domestically-built surface combatant. The Chinese official state media (Xinhua, June 28) considered this “a milestone in improving the nation’s Navy armament system and building a strong and modern Navy.” The Type 055 is the first of China’s new generation destroyers. It is equipped with China’s latest mission systems and a dual-band radar system

Chinese Navy’s new destroyer, a 10,000-ton domestically designed and produced vessel, is launched at Jiangnan Shipyard (Group) in east China’s Shanghai Municipality, June 28, 2017. (Xinhua/Wang Donghai)

So far aircraft carrier power has not been deployed by China into the Indian Ocean. China has converted one ex-Soviet carrier, the Varyag and inducted it into the navy in 2012 as the Liaoning. But China is already deploying “toward” the Indian Ocean where in January 2017 the Liaoning led a warship flotilla into the South China Sea, including drills with advanced J-15 aircraft. This was the first Chinese aircraft carrier deployment into the South China Sea, and constituted a clear policy to project maritime power. This projection was partly in terms of demonstrating clear superiority over local rival claimants in the South China Sea, and partly to begin matching U.S. aircraft carrier deployments into waters that China claims as its own, but which the U.S. claims as international waters in which it could undertake Freedom of Navigation Exercises.

A crucial development for China’s aircraft carrier power projection capability is the acceleration during 2017 of China’s own indigenous construction of aircraft carriers. This will deliver modern large aircraft carrier capability, and enable ongoing deployment into the Indian Ocean. China’s first home-grown aircraft carrier Type 001A, probably to be named the Shandong, was launched in April 2017 at Shanghai, with mooring exercises carried out in October at Dalian. Consequently, this new aircraft carrier is likely to join the Chinese Navy by late 2018, up to two years earlier than initially expected, and is expected to feature an electromagnetic launch system. It is expected to be stationed with the South China Sea Fleet, thereby earmarked for regular deployment into the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. This marks a key acceleration of China’s effort to build up a blue-water navy to secure the country’s key maritime trade routes and to challenge the U.S.’s dominant position in the Asia-Pacific region, especially in the South China Sea as well as India’s position in the Indian Ocean.

Countervailing Responses

The very success of China’s Indian Ocean strategy has created countervailing moves. In reaction to China’s Maritime Silk Road Initiative, India has pushed its own Mausam and Cotton Route projects for Indian Ocean cooperation, neither of which involve China; and alongside Japan has also started espousing the Africa-Asia Growth Corridor (AAGC), which again does not involve China. U.S. espousal of the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor (IPEC) connecting South Asia to Southeast Asia is also being linked up to the Indian and Japanese proposals. With regard to China’s “two-ocean” naval strategy, the more it has deployed into the Indian Ocean, the more India has moved towards trilateral security cooperation with the U.S. and Japan. Australia beckons as well in this regional reaction to China, as witnessed in the revival of “Quad” discussions between Australian, Indian, Japanese, and U.S. officials in 12 November 2017. This countervailing security development includes trilateral MALABAR exercises between the Indian, Japanese, and U.S. navies, in which their exercises in the Bay of Bengal in July 2017 showed a move of venues (and focus of concern about China) from the Western Pacific into the Indian Ocean, and with Australia likely to join the MALABAR format within this “Quad” development. China has become a victim of its own maritime success in the Indian Ocean, thereby illustrating the axiom that “To every action there is an equal and opposed reaction” – which points to tacit balancing in other words.

David Scott is an independent analyst on Indo-Pacific international relations and maritime geopolitics, a prolific writer and a regular ongoing presenter at the NATO Defence College in Rome since 2006 and the Baltic Defence College in Tallinn since 2017. He can be contacted at


1. Kupakar, “China’s naval base(s) in the Indian Ocean—signs of a maritime Grand Strategy?,” Journal of Strategic Anaysis, 41.3, 2017

Featured Image: Pakistan’s Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Zakaullah visits Chinese ship on visit to Pakistan for participating in Multinational Exercise AMAN-17 in Karachi, Pakistan, on Feb. 12, 2017. (

China’s Defense & Foreign Policy Week Kicks Off on CIMSEC

By Dmitry Filipoff

This week CIMSEC will be featuring articles that discuss China’s defense and foreign policies in response to our recent Call for Articles. Stay tuned as authors discuss China’s geopolitical aims and means, including with an emphasis on the maritime domain. Below is a list of articles featuring during the topic week that will be updated as the topic week rolls out and as prospective authors finalize additional publications.

The Evolution of the PLA Navy and China’s National Security Interests  by Steve Micallef
Chinese Maritime Strategy for the Indian Ocean by David Scott
China Looks Seaward to Become a Global Power by Theodore Bazinis
China’s Base in Djibouti: Lessons from Germany’s Asian Colonialism by Pawel Behrendt
Why U.S.-China Counterterrorism Cooperation Falters by Jeffrey Payne
PRC Defense Policy Noted in the Nineteenth CCP National Congress by Ching Chang

Dmitry Filipoff is CIMSEC’s Director of Online Content. Contact him at

Featured Image: Chinese President Xi Jinping (C) addresses the 17th meeting of Council of Heads of States of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Astana, Kazakhstan, June 9, 2017. (Xinhua/Pang Xinglei)

The Indian Navy’s Master Defense Plan 

By Periklis Stampoulis


The South Asian region is dominated by India. Along with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, it forms a self-contained geographic region called the Indian subcontinent. Geopolitical imperatives for India’s security and independence are the control, or at least influence, of the sub-continent and maritime expansion through the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).1

The Strategic Environment and Maritime Requirements

By fulfilling its “destiny,” India bumps into Chinese regional interests. Attempting to expand its own interests, commercial activities, and energy goods imports, China has launched the “String of Pearls” project, namely the construction of a web of naval infrastructure (ports and bases) throughout the IOR. These activities, along with the arms sales to IOR states, cause fears of Chinese encirclement and thus fuel a long simmering rivalry between India and China.2

China has already built and operates a military base in Djibouti, while Chinese-financed ports in the IOR such as Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, along with Chittagong and Sonadia in Bangladesh, provide amenities in Chinese Navy (PLAN) ships.

In order to address these upcoming issues in its “natural” maritime environment, Indian political leaders realized that a strong and formidable Indian Navy (IN) is the answer to increasing maritime competition in the IOR. Therefore, a Maritime Security Strategy was promulgated, where it is stated that the primary interest in the region is the IOR.3

The implementation of this strategy is primarily centered on the Indian Navy. Critical missions and tasks are outlined in 2015 Indian Maritime Doctrine. There are four types of operations in which the Indian Navy (IN) is (and will be) involved: a) military, b) diplomatic, c) constabulary and d) benign.4

The military role is a navy’s essence. The most important military missions derived from the IN’s objectives adhere to Corbettian theory (Sea Control, Sea Denial, and SLOC protection),5 while tasking entails the whole spectrum of modern naval warfare such as Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), Anti-submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Air Warfare (AAW), and Electronic Warfare (EW).6

Diplomatic and constabulary roles cover a range of activities from participation in Peace Support Operations to anti-piracy and anti-terrorist operations.7 The benign role of the IN is comprised of Humanitarian Assistance, Disaster Relief, and Search and Rescue (SAR).8

The Indian Navy’s Current and Future Situation

However ambitious the IN’s official documents are, they are limited by the IN’s real capabilities. A quick analysis reveals the numbers are not yet there. The IN currently operates:9

  • 1 Aircraft Carrier (INS Vikramaditya), capable of carrying 26 MiG-29 fighters and 10 Ka-31 helicopters – a second, the INS Viraat, is slated for decommissioning this year
  • 11 Destroyers
  • 14 Frigates
  • 23 Corvettes
  • 1 nuclear-powered submarine
  • 13 conventionally-powered submarines
  • 4 Mine countermeasures vessels
  • 1 Landing Platform Deck (LPD)
  • 8 Landing Ships (LST)
  • 4 Fleet Tankers (AORs)
  • 10 large Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs)

Taking a closer look at India’s primary area of interest, the IOR, it is appararent that it can be divided into smaller areas. Two of the areas are especially critical for Indian maritime policy: the Arab Sea and the Gulf of Bengal. The IN has only one aircraft carrier, thus one fully operational Task Force (TF). This means that only one of the two vital areas can be adequately covered at any given time in the event of armed conflict. This TF’s missions could vary from sea control of the assigned area to escorting the LPD and LST-comprised Amphibious Task Force (ATF).Therefore, the Indian Naval High Command must prioritize which of these areas is more critical and assign the carrier group within. Remaining units will deploy in the “secondary” area, maintaining a more defensive posture and with the aid of shore-based aircraft.

Submarines could monitor critical chokepoints such as the Hormuz Strait, Bab el Mandeb, and Andaman and Nicobar islands. Additionally, the IN would mostly likely establish patrols along critical Sea Lines of Communications (SLOCs). Strategic missiles submarines would deploy in the open sea, ready to launch their payload if ordered.

Tensions with neighboring states and China’s ascent have forced India to re-evaluate its naval strategy and strengthen its navy. The IN has launched an ambitious 200-ship-navy initiative utilizing Indian shipbuilding industry and indigenous research and development programs (R&D), along with foreign defense firms (e.g. Rafael).10 Between 2025 and 2030, the projected IN will consist of the following units:

  • 3 Aircraft Carriers (AC), one of them nuclear-powered, capable of carrying 26, 30, and 45 fixed-wing aircraft respectively.
  • 12 Destroyers
  • 20 Frigates
  • 12 ASW, 16 Shallow Water ASW, and 6 ASuW Corvettes.
  • 12 Minesweepers
  • 18 Attack Submarines (SSNs)
  • 4-7 nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBNs)
  • 4-5 LPDs
  • Various offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) capable of carrying SR SAMs (e.g IGLA SA-18)
  • Various multi-role helicopters and UAVs
  • 5 AORs and 4 Multi-Utility Vessels

Zone Defense

With a fleet of this size, the IN is significantly more capable of addressing regional military tensions  with another major power such as China, along with its regional allies (mainly Pakistan), or provide support to a friendly country attacked by an adversary – e.g. Myanmar attacked by China.

As part of the ongoing sea trials, the first indigenously built, Scorpene class submarine Kalvari undertook it’s first torpedo firing on 26 May 2017. The submarine is being built by the Mazagaon Docks Limited (MDL) at Mumbai. As part of the project, MDL will build a total of six submarines. (Wikimedia Commons)

India can currently exert influence over a large portion of the IOR and has no desire to expand its territory in the littorals. Therefore, it can be classified as a status quo power. Its main objective is to defend its dominant position, relative to the rest of the sub-continent, against any outsider’s attack. But how is this defense best accomplished?

The most suitable strategy would be zone defense. The overall area to be defended by the IN can be divided into two distinct sub-areas, where the first contains the Indian littoral. Therefore, small surface combatants, attack submarines, land-based aircraft, and shore installations are most useful here.11

The second sub-area covers the vast oceanic region starting from the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and covering the rest of the IOR, namely of the Arab Sea, the Gulf of Bengal, and the region south of Sri Lanka. It is a vast sea mass without any sign of land, except for minor islets in the southern part (e.g. Ascension Island, Diego Garcia). Consequently, the most appropriate form of naval warfare involves carrier-based task forces with ships and aircraft equipped with long-range sensors and weapons for the purpose of exercising sea control.

There is also another key geographic feature: the Andaman-Nicobar island complex, which is a perfect setting for Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) operations due to its infinite bays. These can provide safe havens for small craft or submarines, air defense installations, and anti-ship missile batteries. The significance of the Andaman-Nicobar A2/AD “bubble” has already been acknowledged by the Chinese.12

The Andaman & Nicobar islands. (Himfact via Youtube)

In this plan, India would deploy a basketball-style two-zone defense (inner-outer, each one favoring different types of naval operations) and an A2/AD “bubble” in the vicinity of the Andaman-Nicobar island complex to act as a bulkwark against Chinese intrusions from the east.

The Scope of Potential Operations

The IN’s master naval war plan is probably based on the establishment of Sea Control of the IOR obtained by the three CBGs. Depending on the prioritization of threats, two CBGs could unite and form a Carrier Task Force (CATF), with significant firepower capable of bringing a decisive outcome. By obtaining Sea Control of the Arab Sea, the Gulf of Bengal and the region south of Sri Lanka, CBGs/CATF, could provide long-range protection to an Amphibious Task Force in order to occupy an enemy naval base or to reoccupy a previously lost national territory.

A CBG’s probable composition could consist of 3-4 Destroyers, 5-6 Frigates, 4 ASW Corvettes, and probably one submarine. Every CBG possesses enhanced ASuW capabilities because of BrahMos anti-ship missiles (240nm range), and organic air assets (fighter/-helicopters),  defense-in-depth against air threats (fighters, Barak-8 MR SAM, Barak-1 SR SAM, SA-16 SR SAM and AK-630 CIWS), ASW capabilities (e.g. towed sonar arrays), EW capabilities, and a submarine capable of executing multiple tasks (ASuW, SSK, patrolling, intelligence gathering, etc.)

There are some remaining units not joining a CBG: 2-3 Destroyers, 2-5 Frigates, and probably a number of ASuW Corvettes. This task group could be assigned various additional tasks from the close escort of the ATF(s), to the harassment and outflanking of an enemy naval force.

Amphibious operation capabilities are upgraded with the presence of 5 LPDs which can form one or two ATFs occupying a hostile naval base (e.g. a Pakistani or another “String of Pearls” base) or re-capturing national territory. Minesweepers can be utilized for “paving” the way for the ATF to come or clear national territory from enemy mines.

Indian maritime security strategy acknowledges 10 chokepoints in the entire IOR as of critical importance.13 Monitoring them is an appropriate task for attack submarines. Apart from 3 submarines for CBG support (1 per CBG), remaining units could be utilized as their substitutes or establish patrols in assigned sectors covering the IOR SLOCs. SSBNs are expected to deploy in certain areas in order to strike enemy strategic infrastructure. A certain number of them could be expected to deploy in the South China Sea.

Other small units such as patrol vessels could be a threat in the littorals, harassing the advancing enemy force in coordination with shore batteries. Patrol vessels could be an asset in an Andaman and Nicobar A2/AD outpost. Unconventional swarm attacks by fast patrol boats, missile “traps” by armored OPVs or UAVs, minefields, and other types of operations against westbound “incomers” could severely impede their passage and cause significant losses.

The same concept of operations applies in the “inner” zone of the Indian littoral. OPVs, land-based aircraft and UAVs, and shore installations will operate against “incomers.” There is however a vital difference: unlike the other areas of operations, this inner zone constitutes the final line of defense in case of other areas’ breach.


There is an escalating tension in the IOR between two regional powers: India and China. The latter hopes to extend its influence by controlling IOR SLOCS (among other things), which deprive India of its natural maritime environment. India is trying to create a formidable navy, capable of addressing ever-growing Chinese ambitions and supporting its regional rivals in the Indian sub-continent (e.g. Pakistan). Judging by the IN’s future composition, a basketball-style two-zone defense, along with an A2/AD outpost in the Andaman/Nicobar islands, is the most probable way of the IN defending the country’s vital areas.

Periklis Stampoulis is a Hellenic Navy Officer. He holds a Master of Arts (MA) in International Relations and Strategic Studies from Panteion University, Greece.

Views expressed in this article are the author’s personal opinion and do not necessarily coincide with the official view of the Hellenic Navy.


[1] Stratfor, 2012, ‘The Geopolitics of India: A Shifting, Self-Contained World’, 01/04/12, [online], available in <>, access 14/06/17

[2] Kaplan R.D., 2009, ‘Center Stage for the 21st Century: Power Plays in the Indian Ocean’, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2009, [online], available in <>, access 15/06/17

[3] Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy) 2015, Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy (Naval Strategic Publication (NSP) 1.2), October 2015, p.32, [online], available in <>, access 16/06/17

[4] Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy) 2015, Indian Maritime Doctrine (Naval Strategic Publication 1.1), first print August 2009, p.91, [online], available in, access 17/06/17

[5] Ibid, p.92-97

[6] Ibid, p.97-105

[7] Ibid, p. 116-119

[8] Ibid, p.120-122

[9] International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2016, ‘The Military Balance 2016’, Routledge, London- New York, p.252

[10] Further information at

[11] Vego M., 2005, Naval Strategy and Operations in Narrow Waters, second revised and expanded edition, Frank Cass, London-Portland OR, p.134

[12] Kaplan R.D., ‘Center Stage for the 21st Century: Power Plays in the Indian Ocean’, ibid

[13] Ensuring Secure Seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy, ibid, p.18-21

Featured Image: INS Rajput firing a BrahMos missile (Wikimedia Commons)

The ‘Indo-Pacific’ Concept: Retrospect and Prospect

The following article originally featured at the National Maritime Foundation and is republished with permission. Read it in its original form here.                

By Gurpreet S. Khurana

Since 2010, the concept of ‘Indo-Pacific’ has gained increasing prevalence in the geopolitical and strategic discourse, and is now being used increasingly by policy-makers, analysts and academics in Asia and beyond.1 It is now precisely a decade since the concept was proposed by the author in 2007. Although the Australians have been using the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ earlier, it was the first time, at least in recent decades, that the concept was formally introduced and explained in an academic paper. The said paper titled ‘Security of Sea Lines: Prospects for India-Japan Cooperation’ was published in the January 2007 edition of Strategic Analyses journal of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.2

The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ combines the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and the Western Pacific Region (WP) – inclusive of the contiguous seas off East Asia and Southeast Asia – into a singular regional construct. There are some variations based on specific preferences of countries. For instance, the United States (U.S.) prefers to use the term ‘Indo-Asia-Pacific’, to encompass the entire swath of Indian and Pacific oceans, thereby enabling the U.S. inclusiveness for it to maintain its relevance as a resident power in this important region. Nonetheless, the fundamental ‘idea’ of ‘Indo-Pacific’ is accepted nearly universally. It has been argued that the concept of the Indo-Pacific may lead to a change in popular “mental maps” of how the world is understood in strategic terms.3

It may be conceded that there are some fundamental and distinct differences between the IOR and the WP in terms of geopolitics – including the geo-economics that shape geopolitics – and even the security environment. If so, how did the concept of ‘Indo-Pacific take root? It is a conceptual ‘aberration’? What was the underlying rationale behind the use of the term? This essay seeks to examine these pertinent issues. Furthermore, based on current trends, the analysis presents a prognosis on the future relevance of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept.

Indian Ocean-Western Pacific Divergences

Undeniably, the IOR and the WP differ substantially in nearly all aspects, ranging from the levels of economic development of countries and their social parameters, to the security environment. Unlike the IOR, the WP has been beset by major traditional (military) threats. Such insecurity is based on historical factors, mainly flowing from the adverse actions of dominant military powers, particularly since the advent of the 20th century – for instance, Japan; and now increasingly, China – resulting in heightened nationalism and an attempt to redraw sovereign boundaries, including ‘territorialization’ of the seas. The military dominance of these powers was a consequence of their economic progress, beginning with Japan, which later helped the other East Asian economies to grow through outsourcing of lower-end manufacturing industries – the so-called ‘Flying Geese Paradigm.’4

In contrast, the recent history of the IOR is not chequered by onslaught of any dominant and assertive local power. Why so? Despite being rich in natural resources – particularly hydrocarbons – the IOR countries were severely constrained to develop their economies. Not only did the colonial rule of western powers last longer in the IOR, but also these countries were too diverse in all aspects, and were never self-compelled to integrate themselves economically; and therefore, lagged behind East Asia substantially in terms of economic progress. As a result, many of these countries could not even acquire adequate capacity to govern and regulate human activity in their sovereign territories/maritime zones, let alone developing capabilities for military assertion against their neighbors. Therefore, the numerous maritime disputes in the IOR remain dormant, and have not yet translated into military insecurities. (The India-Pakistan contestation is among the rare exceptions, and is based on a very different causative factor.) The IOR is plagued more by non-traditional security issues, such as piracy, organized crime involving drugs and small-arms, illegal fishing, irregular migration, and human smuggling.

The Rationale

The broader rationale behind the prevalence of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept is the increasing developments in the area spanning the entire ‘maritime underbelly’ of Asia, ranging from the East African littoral to Northeast Asia. This is best exemplified by the launch of the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) in 2004 to counter the sea-borne proliferation of WMDs and their delivery systems. The PSI focused on the maritime swath stretching from Iran and Syria to North Korea.5 These developments led strategic analysts to search for a suitable common regional nomenclature to be able to communicate more effectively. The term ‘Asia’ was too broad and heterogeneous; and ‘continental’ rather than ‘maritime.’ The term ‘Asia-Pacific’ – which traditionally stood for ‘the Asian littoral of the Pacific Ocean’ – was inadequate.6 The ‘Indo-Pacific’ – shortened from ‘Indian Ocean–Pacific Ocean combine’ – seemed more appropriate.

The coinage of ‘Indo-Pacific’ has much to do with the increased eminence of India with the turn of the 21st century. It began in the 1990s with India’s impressive economic growth, and later, its nuclear weaponization. In 2006, Donald Berlin wrote that the ‘rise of India’ is itself a key factor in the increasing significance of the Indian Ocean.7 Also, India could no longer be excluded from any overarching reckoning in the Asia-Pacific; be it economic or security related. For example, India was an obvious choice for inclusion in the ASEAN Regional Forum (in 1996) and the East Asia Summit (in 2005). Even for the PSI (2004), President Bush sought to enroll India as a key participant through PACOM. However, even while India is located in PACOM’s area of responsibility, ‘technically’, it does not belong to the Asia-Pacific. During the Shangri, La Dialogue 2009, India’s former naval chief Admiral Arun Prakash highlighted this contradiction, saying,

I am not quite sure about the origin of the term Asia-Pacific, but I presume it was coined to include America in this part of the world, which is perfectly all right. As an Indian, every time I hear the term Asia-Pacific I feel a sense of exclusion, because it seems to include north east Asia, south east Asia and the Pacific islands, and it terminates at the Malacca Straits, but there is a whole world west of the Malacca Straits…so my question to the distinguished panel is…do you see a contradiction between the terms Asia-Pacific, Asia, and the Indian Ocean region?” 

The ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept helped to overcome this dilemma by incorporating ‘India’ in the affairs of ‘maritime-Asia,’ even though the ‘Indo-’ in the compound word ‘Indo-Pacific’ stands for the ‘Indian Ocean’, and not ‘India.’

Since long, the IOR had been a maritime-conduit of hydrocarbons to fuel the economic prosperity of the WP littoral countries, which was another significant linkage between the IOR and the WP, and provided much ballast to the rationale of ‘Indo-Pacific.’ In context of China’s economic ‘rise’ leading to its enhanced military power and assertiveness, this linkage represented Beijing’s strategic vulnerability, and thereby an opportunity for deterring Chinese aggressiveness. Ironically, China’s strategic vulnerability was expressed by the Chinese President Hu Jintao himself in November 2003 through his coinage of the “Malacca Dilemma,” wherein “certain major powers” were bent on controlling the strait.8 The reference to India was implicit, yet undeniable. In his book ‘Samudramanthan’ (2012), Raja Mohan says, “India-China maritime rivalry finds its sharpest expression in the Bay of Bengal, the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait…” which demonstrates the interconnectedness of “the two different realms (of) Pacific and Indian Ocean(s).”9

The Genesis

Against the backdrop of strengthening India-Japan political ties following the 2006 reciprocal visits of the two countries’ apex leaders, Indian and Japanese think tanks had intensified their discussions on strategic and maritime cooperation. At one of the brainstorming sessions held at the IDSA in October 2006, the participants took note of China’s strategic vulnerability in terms of its ‘Malacca Dilemma,’ and sought to stretch its sense of insecurity eastwards to the IOR with the objective of restraining China’s politico-military assertiveness against its Asian neighbors.

Besides, Japan itself was vulnerable due to its rather heavy dependence on seaborne energy and food imports across the IOR, and thus sought an enhanced maritime security role in the area in cooperation with India. During the discussions at IDSA, a clear concord was reached that the IOR and the WP cannot possibly be treated separately, either for maritime security, or even in geopolitical terms. It was during that event that the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept was casually discussed, which led to the publication of the January 2007 paper in Strategic Analyses (as mentioned above). Interestingly, a few months later in August 2007, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed the Indian Parliament, speaking of the “Confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans” as “the dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity” in the “broader Asia.”10

In 2010, the U.S. officially recognized ‘Indo-Pacific’ for the first time. Speaking at Honolulu, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about “expanding our work with the Indian Navy in the Pacific, because we understand how important the Indo-Pacific basin is to global trade and commerce.”11

In 2012, the Australian analyst Rory Medcalf wrote that he was convinced that the “Indo-Pacific (is) a term whose time has come.” A year later in 2013, Australia released its Defence White Paper, which carried the first government articulation of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept.12 Soon thereafter, Rory Medcalf endorsed India’s centrality in the Indo-Pacific construct stating that “Australia’s new defense policy recognizes India’s eastward orientation.”13

China was initially circumspect of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ coinage. As the Australian writers Nick Bisley and Andrew Phillips wrote in 2012,

…Viewed from Beijing, the idea of the Indo-Pacific…appears to be to keep the U.S. in, lift India up, and keep China out of the Indian Ocean… (which is why), the Indo-Pacific concept has…received a frosty reception in China…14

In July 2013, Chinese scholar Zhao Qinghai trashed the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept on the basis of his interpretation of it being an “India too” geopolitical construct.15 Notwithstanding, not all Chinese scholars have been dismissive of the concept. In June 2013, Minghao Zhao wrote,

“…And it is true that a power game of great significance has unfolded in Indo-Pacific Asia. The U.S., India, Japan, and other players are seeking to collaborate to build an “Indo-Pacific order” that is congenial to their long-term interests. China is not necessarily excluded from this project, and it should seek a seat at the table and help recast the strategic objectives and interaction norms (in China’s favor).”16

Interestingly, in November 2014 the Global Times, an official Chinese English-language daily, carried a commentary cautioning India on the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept. It said that the Indo-Pacific concept has not been endorsed by the “Indian government and scholars,” but scripted by the United States and its allies “to balance and even contain China’s increasing influence in the Asia-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean,” and who have made India a “linchpin” in the geo-strategic system. Paradoxically, however, the commentary was titled “New Delhi-Beijing Cooperation Key to Building an Indo-Pacific Era.”17


It emerges from the foregoing that the current prevalence of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept is premised upon – and necessitated by – the growing inter-connectedness between the IOR and WP, rather than any similarities in their characteristics. This leads to another pertinent question: What would be the relevance of the concept in the coming years?

According to preliminary indicators, the relevance of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept may be enhanced in the future due to the strengthening linkages between the IOR and the WP. Events and developments in one part of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ are likely to increasingly affect countries located in the other part. Furthermore, over the decades, the growing trade and people-to-people connectivity between the IOR and WP countries may benefit the IOR, and slowly iron out the dissimilarities in terms of economic and human development indices.

China’s ‘Maritime Silk Road’ (MSR) and India’s outreach to its extended eastern neighborhood through its ‘Act East’ policy could contribute substantially toward the economic integration of the IOR and the WP. Indonesia’s putative role is also noteworthy. It is an archipelagic country that straddles the ‘Indo Pacific’ with sea coasts facing both the IOR and the WP. Possessing substantial potential to become a major maritime power, Indonesia is likely to be a key player in the process of melting the IOR-WP divide, and thereby reinforcing the ‘Indo-Pacific’ construct.

Over the decades, the current dissimilarities between the IOR and the WP in terms of the security environment may also diminish, if not vanish altogether. Greater economic prosperity in the IOR is likely to be followed by increasing stakes in the maritime domain, besides the ability to develop naval capabilities. The hitherto ‘dormant’ maritime disputes in IOR could become ‘active.’ Furthermore, the MSR could be accompanied by China’s invigorated efforts toward naval development to fructify its ‘Two-Ocean Strategy.’18 China’s intensified naval presence in the IOR could lead to increased likelihood of acrimony due to its politico-military involvement in regional instabilities and maritime disputes. It may also cause the PLA Navy to increase its activities in the maritime zones of IOR countries, and have unintended encounters at sea with the naval forces of other established powers, leading to enhanced maritime-military insecurities. In such a scenario, the ‘Indo-Pacific’ concept would be essential to manage the regional developments and integrate China into the established norms of conduct in the IOR.

In the broader sense, as India’s leading strategist Uday Bhaskar avers, “In the global context, the Pacific and the Indian oceans are poised to acquire greater strategic salience for the major powers of the 21st century, three among whom – the China, India and the U.S. – are located in Asia.”19 Indeed, a holistic treatment of the Indian-Pacific Ocean continuum would be required to assess the evolving balance of power in Asia, and to address the fault-lines therein, with the overarching aim of preserving regional and global stability.

Captain Gurpreet S. Khurana, PhD, is Executive Director at the National Maritime Foundation (NMF), New Delhi. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the NMF, the Indian Navy, or the Government of India. He can be reached at

Notes and References

[1] ‘Indo-Pacific: Strategic/ Geopolitical Context’, Wikipedia, at

[2] Gurpreet S Khurana, ‘Security of Sea Lines: Prospects for India-Japan Cooperation’, Strategic Analysis (IDSA/ Routledge), Vol. 31 (1), January 2007, p.139 – 153

[3] David Brewster, ‘Dividing Lines: Evolving Mental Maps of the Bay of Bengal’, Asian Security, Vol. 10(2), 24 Jun 14, p.151-167, at

[4] Shigehisa Kasahara, ‘The Asian Developmental State and the Flying Geese Paradigm’, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Discussion Paper No. 213, Nov 2013, at

[5] ‘Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI)’, Arms Control Association, 2 Jun 2007, at

[6] Japan and Australia promoted the term ‘Asia Pacific’ in the 1970s and 1980s to draw them closer to the United States and the economically burgeoning East Asia. India was far, geographically, from the region, and politically, economically and strategically remained uninvolved for inherent reasons. See D. Gnanagurunathan, ‘India and the Idea of the ‘Indo-Pacific’’, East Asia Forum, 20 Oct 12, at

[7] Donald L Berlin, ‘India in the Indian Ocean’, Naval War College Review, Vol.59(2), Spring 2006

[8] Ian Storey, ‘China’s Malacca Dilemma’, China Brief (The Jamestown Foundation), Vol. 6(8), 12 Apr 2006, at

[9] C Raja Mohan. Samudramanthan: Sino-Indian Rivalry in the Indo-Pacific (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: October 2012)

[10] Confluence of the Two Seas”, Speech by H.E. Mr. Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan at the Parliament of the Republic of India, August 22, 2007, Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) website, at

[11] Remarks by Hillary Rodham Clinton, US Secretary of State, ‘America’s Engagement in the Asia-Pacific’, US Department of State, 28 Oct 10, at

 [12] ‘Defending Australia and its National Interests’, Defence White Paper 2013, Department of Defence, Australian Government, May 13, at

[13] Rory Medcalf, ‘The Indo-Pacific Pivot’, 10 May 13, at

[14] Nick Bisley (La Trobe University, Australia) and Andrew Phillips (University of Queensland, Australia), ‘The Indo-Pacific: what does it actually mean?’, East Asia Forum, 06 Oct 12, at

 [15] Zhao Qinghai, ‘The Concept of “India too”(“Yin Tai”) and its implications for China’(translated from Mandarin “印太”概念及其对中国的含义), Contemporary International Relations (现代国际关), No. 7, 2013, 31 July 2013,at

 [16] Minghao Zhao, ‘The Emerging Strategic Triangle in Indo-Pacific Asia’, 4 Jun 13, at

[17] Liu Zongyi, ‘New Delhi-Beijing Key to Building an <Indo-Pacific Era>’, Global Times, 30 November 2014, at

[18] Robert D. Kaplan, ‘China’s Two Ocean Strategy’ in Abraham Denmark and Nirav Patel (eds.) China’s Arrival: A Strategic Relationship for a Global Relationship (Centre for New American Strategy: Sep 2009), p.43-58, at’s%20Arrival_Final%20Report-3.pdf

[19] C Uday Bhaskar. ‘Pacific and Indian Oceans: Relevance for the evolving power structures in Asia’, Queries, Magazine by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), No. 3(6), Nov 11, p.123-128

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