Flanked by two destroyers, the Changbaishan, China’s largest amphibious landing ship, conducted drills around the Indian Ocean, eventually making its way to the western Pacific Ocean. Livemint reports:
It said they reached the Indian Ocean on 29 January and carried out a series of drills on the themes of counter-piracy, search and rescue, and damage control.Although not directly targeted at India, the exercises underscore China’s competition with the other Asian giant.
As always, China’s goals with these “drills” go far beyond mere military practice. Most notably, the conducting the drills in the Indian Ocean is a direct challenge to India’s hegemonic aspirations in its own backyard. Befriending countries in the Indian Ocean like Sri Lanka and the Maldives is one thing, but bringing actual military vessels that conduct “emergency responses” is quite another.The route the ships took was also a statement—not just to India but to all the countries that have border disputes with China, including the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan. The message is this: China is not afraid of confrontation, and will not hesitate to send its navy to anywhere in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, let alone the South China Sea.Finally, the drills highlight China’s carrot-and-stick approach to regional relations. It’s using its economic might to invest abroad and to import billions of dollars’ worth of goods and raw materials, supplying much needed cash to the local economies of emerging markets. Talk of economic partnership and shared prosperity is in plentiful supply. At the same time, dissent from China’s line generates dark warnings and displays of military might like the tour of the Changbaishan.We can expect more of these “walkabouts” by China. The question now is how India will respond.