One of the ills in the relationship between media and the end user is the systematic dilution of stamina of the second by the first. In the past few years the diet has changed from a robust and balanced discourse on issues of our times to a superficial and junk food equivalent of information, a pursuit of trivia that now threatens to create an unbridgeable divide whenever something more in-depth is taken up. The staying power just isn’t there.
It is these priorities that kick in so stridently and which is why we have so totally failed to register the significance of China placing missiles in the curving sliver of an island called Woody (Xongxing) in the South China Sea, a part of the Paracel group. Who are they aimed at? Taiwan? Japan? The Philippines, for example, are genuinely disturbed and have echoed the general sentiment despite Beijing’s denial: "We are gravely concerned by reports that China has deployed surface-to-air missiles in Woody Island. Such actions negate China’s earlier commitment not to militarize the South China Sea. These developments further erode trust and confidence and aggravate the already tense situation.”
The Japanese are still at loggerheads with China over the Spratley islands and Taiwan sleeps uneasily at night.
The show of muscle must cause more than a ripple of concern in New Delhi, seeing as how Chinese maps depict the Andaman and Nicobar islands as Chinese territory. We are largely ignorant of this fact and also the possible upset in the balance of powers in the Southeast Asian hemisphere.
That China’s forays into Africa have been tangible is no secret. But last month it upped the ante dramatically by signing a deal with Djibouti which gives the first military facility from China in Africa a wide enough sweep and access to the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal. That this is happening when the Indian navy is in dire need of being refurbished and strengthened is matter of more than passing concern.
It was in 2012 that China declared its intent to become a major maritime power public. A Booz Allen report in 2003 had indicated that China may churn the waves but even that assessment never thought a decade later it might be becoming a reality. China's current confabs with Namibia would only add more dimension to that promise and as far as spreading its fleet which could cross 400 naval vessels is concerned, there is no other navy even close to these numbers. This is an armada. The Namibian connection gives Beijing a boost to its air power and tightens its control on the waters between the Far East and the Indian subcontinent using the African rim as a jumping off point.
In the four years since China issued warning India has vacillated on investing in its naval power and this could be an expensive omission.
Neither Djibouti nor Namibia see the Chinese presence as a Faustian pact. On the contrary their being there gives these two nations a sense of security in a troubled continent and China gets major concession for playing ‘big brother’- a role China would relish.
Several reports from the west indicate that these movements are integral to the ‘Overseas Strategic Support Bases’ which is a convenient euphemism for nautical supremacy. In fact, China is supposed to have a blueprint for 18 such bases. The Naimbian had a story recently indicating these bases could ostensibly be in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Mynanmar in the northern Indian Ocean; Djibouti, Yemen, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique in the western Indian Ocean; and Seychelles and Madagascar in the central South Indian Ocean.
Other naval bases on the anvil are: Chongjin Port (North Korea), Moresby Port (Papua New Guinea), Sihanoukville Port (Cambodia), Koh Lanta Port (Thailand) Sittwe Port (Myanmar), Dhaka Port (Bangladesh), Gwadar Port (Pakistan), Hambantota Port (Sri Lanka), Maldives, Seychelles, Djibouti Port (Djibouti), Lagos Port (Nigeria), Mombasa Port (Kenya), Dar es Salaam Port (Tanzania) and Luanda Port (Angola).
If New Delhi is taking note and creating a response to the situation, it is pretty much under the radar.
In these circumstances with China fully committed to ruling the waves what could India do if China engages in adventurism? Very little really except read the writing on the wall and begin to build its own navy as a deterrent to the string of pearls that was the label given to its forays in establishing bases in the region.
If it won’t get started now, it may never catch up.