‘US focus on Asia-Pacific will help India contain China’

TwoCircles.net, 8 June 2012

New Delhi : The US military’s new focus on the Asia-Pacific region, as enunciated by Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, is welcome and will aid in India’s efforts to contain China, security experts say, adding that this country’s navy should develop the capacity to operate in areas afar as the Pacific Ocean.

“This was in the making for a long time. After the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, the Atlantic is a dead duck and with the power centre shifting from the west to the east, the Asia-Pacific region is going to be the cockpit of power for the next 50 years,” former Indian Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash told IANS.

“So, how should India react? Each country should react if its sovereignty and security is impinged. This not so in this case. Therefore, we should welcome it. We are worried about the rise of China. This will help us in the containment process in the long run,” Adm. Prakash, who is a member of the National Security Advisory Board, added.

Speaking in New Delhi Wednesday, Panetta detailed the US’ “rebalancing” itself toward the Asia-Pacific region.

“In particular, we will expand our military partnerships and our presence in the arc extending from the Western Pacific and East Asia into the Indian Ocean region and South Asia,” he said, adding that India would be a “lynchpin” in implementing this strategy.

In practical terms that means that the US would be moving 60 percent of its military assets – principally warships, aircraft and troops – to the Asia-Pacific-Indian Ocean region.

This would enable the US “confront more than one enemy at the same time. Let’s say something happens in North Korea and simultaneously in the Strait of Hormuz. We have to be prepared to confront both,” Panetta said.

Commodore (retd) C. Uday Bhaskar, advisor to the South Asia Monitor portal, echoed Adm. Prakash’s views.

“If you have the capacity, then you operate in a certain area. We should acquire the capacity to operate in the Pacific Ocean. One shouldn’t be surprised about the plans the US and China have for the Indian Ocean. Surprise would go against the rhythm of what world powers do,” said Bhaskar, a former director of the National Maritime Foundation.

“Instead of saying ‘Don’t come here’, you should show your ability to go outside your domain,” Bhaskar added.

The Indian Navy has for long desired to transform itself into a blue water force. However, in spite of being the only navy in the region stretching from Israel in the west to Japan and China in the east to operate an aircraft carrier – with two more on the way – and a plethora of submarines – both nuclear and conventional – destroyers, frigates, corvettes and other vessels, it essentially remains a coastal force.

However, the Indian Navy does participate in bilateral and multilateral exercises as far away as off Japan – and once in the Atlantic. Its ships also regularly drop anchor at foreign ports on goodwill visits.

Gulshan Luthra, editor of India Strategic defence journal, had another take on the issue, saying the US move would make India unhappy but there was little this country could do about it.

“It’s bound to cause unhappiness in India but there’s little we can do about it,” Luthra.

What was now worrisome, he said were reports that the US was attempting to acquire berthing facilities in the Bangladesh port city of Chittagong.

“If that happens, India’s strategic assets would be under constant observation,” Luthra addded.