US Pacific Command chief Admiral Harry Harris on Thursday called China a “disruptive force” in the Indo-Pacific region, while Indian Navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba pointed out towards increasing presence of Chinese warships in the Indian Ocean.
Mistrust for China figured prominently at a multilateral diplomacy and defence forum here, with representatives from India, US, Japan and Indonesia pointing out towards the lack of transparency on China’s part, and its growing attempts to change status quo unilaterally.
In a panel discussion at the Raisina Dialogue being organised by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) here, Admiral Harris said: “I believe the reality is that China is a disruptive transitional force in the Indo-Pacific. They are the owner of the trust deficit that we all have spent the last hour or so talking about.”
He however added that China has also played an important role in humanitarian and disaster relief operations, anti-piracy operations as well as against terrorism.
“There are common threats in the region for sure. We can all work together to overcome them, including China.
“But how defensive Vietnam, is and rightly so when China sends a major oil research platform in Vietnam’s legitimate exclusive economic zone…” he said, adding examples from nations like Malaysia and others where China has attempted to change status quo in terms of territory,” he said.
Admiral Lanba said Chinese naval ships have maintained their presence in the Indian Ocean Region since last ten years.
“Since 2008, there has been a sea change in deployment of PLA Navy. They stepped out of the western Pacific, crossed the first island chain and have been operating in the IOR.”
He said on an average, they have an anti-piracy group in the IOR which consists of a tanker, two frigates and three or four research vessels.
Lanba also mentioned China’s overseas base at Djibouti, and port in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota, adding: “There is no Chinese naval presence, that is what we have been promised. I think that is what the Chinese pattern is going to be in the near term.”
Japan Self-Defense Forces’ Joint Staff chief, Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano said China was unilaterally trying to change the status quo.
“What we are concerned about is that in the East and South China sea, China has been neglecting international law and tries to change status quo unilaterally,” he said, suggesting China be isolated if it continues in its ways.
“One Road, One Belt should be economic initiative but it has military aspects as well and I also think it may be difficult to change the Chinese policy which has been promoting its military action by neglecting international law.
“But if we create an environment that if China continues these actions, the country could be isolated… this is important thing I think,” he said.
Dino Patti Djalal, Founder of Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia, said his country was uncomfortable with China’s attempt to claim its waters.
“For the first time in Indonesia’s history, China is claiming our waters and we are not very comfortable with that. How do we get China to build more trust and prove its good intentions?” he asked.
“(China should) comply with norms, don’t treat your neighbours as you are the big brother, treat us as your friends, the region belongs to us,” he said.
China’s growing aggression in the South China sea and increased presence of its warships and submarines in the Indian Ocean have been a concern, with several experts fearing it could lead to rise of a global scale conflict.
Admiral Lanba had recently cited the presence of as many as 14 Chinese naval ships in the Indian Ocean around August 2016, and had also questioned China’s stand of deploying submarines for anti-piracy operations.
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