Given the growing military activity in the Coco Islands and their proximity to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India decided to expand its capabilities.
- In recent years, China has been expanding its maritime reach by investing heavily in ports and infrastructure in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
- Myanmar, being strategically located and politically volatile, is a key target for China’s maritime ambitions.
- This has been a source of concern for India, particularly given the recent reports of Chinese activity in the Coco Islands, which are in close proximity to India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI).
Why does China value Myanmar?
- In order to secure its maritime supply lines for energy imports and lessen its dependence on the constrained Strait of Malacca, China has long sought to diversify its access to maritime routes.
- Due to Myanmar’s strategic location on the Bay of Bengal, China can advance its maritime objectives there. Additionally, China is Myanmar’s top supplier of defence products, a significant trading partner, and the second-largest foreign investor in the nation.
- A significant part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), a collection of infrastructure projects along the Chinese-Myanmar border.
- These projects are situated in unstable regions, emphasising the need for stability. China now has a sizable stake in Myanmar, giving it the opportunity to use its influence and financial investments for its own gain.
Alleged Chinese presence in the Coco Islands
- Recent reports have alleged that China has been involved in developing signals intelligence (SIGINT) stations in the Coco Islands, which are located in the eastern Bay of Bengal, just north of the ANI.
- This fresh information has attracted attention and renewed concern because the islands offer a vantage point to Beijing for monitoring, surveilling, and gathering intelligence on maritime movements, particularly India’s naval activities in the IOR, and have the capacity to be used as a launchpad for naval deployments.
Identifying truth from fiction
- However, given China’s extensive construction activities in the South China Sea and its flurry of activity in and across the IOR, it is reasonable to assume that China has substantive intelligence capabilities.
- Myanmar has consistently denied any Chinese military involvement and even invited Indian defence officials to visit Great Coco, confirming the presence of an airstrip but no visible Chinese military presence.
- Given its unstable internal situation and the lack of any compelling reasons for it to be using the Coco Islands strategically, Myanmar may be acting on its own initiative, but India must continue to advance with building up its own capabilities within the ANI.
Did you know?
- Keeping in mind the historical significance of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and to honour the memory of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Ross Islands was renamed as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Dweep by the Prime Minister during his visit to the Island in 2018.
- Neil Island and Havelock Island were also renamed Shaheed Dweep and Swaraj Dweep.
- Giving due respect to the real-life heroes of the country has always been accorded the highest priority by the Prime Minister. Going ahead with this spirit, it has now been decided to name the 21 largest unnamed islands of the island group after 21 Param Vir Chakra awardees.
- The largest unnamed island will be named after the first Param Vir Chakra awardee, the second largest unnamed island will be named after the second Param Vir Chakra awardee, and so on.
- This step will be an everlasting tribute to our heroes, several of whom made the ultimate sacrifice to protect the sovereignty and integrity of the nation.
Security Implications for India
- India has increased its own capabilities as a result of the expanding military activities in the Coco Islands and those islands’ proximity to the ANI.
- In anticipation of air defence and air surveillance following the infrastructural developments taking place in the Coco Islands, India has pushed for upgrading the deterrence capabilities of the tri-service AN Command.
- India’s concerns over China’s activities in Myanmar and the IOR are not new. India has been closely monitoring China’s BRI and its potential effects on regional security.
- To counter China’s expanding influence, India has also been forging its own strategic alliances with nations in the region, including Japan, Australia, and the US.
- China’s expanding maritime ambitions in Myanmar and the alleged developments in the Coco Islands have significant implications for India’s security.
- India must continue to move forward with expanding its own capacities in the ANI and building strategic partnerships with like-minded countries to counter China’s growing influence.