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India to US: Won’t play ‘headmaster’ of Indian Ocean
Ajay Banerjee writes from Port Blair

Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma at an international seminar in Port Blair on Friday.
Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma at an international seminar in Port Blair on Friday. 

Playing a host to the naval forces of 12 eastern countries, including some which have a prolonged maritime boundary disputes with China, as part of the “Milan” exercise”, New Delhi today sent out a strong message to Beijing on the emerging power-structure of nations that lie east of India.

Separately, it downplayed the opinion of the US, which had portrayed India as a possible “net provider of security in the Indian Ocean”, saying it had no intent of playing the “role of a headmaster”.

The five-day naval exercise, a part of India’s ‘Look East policy, took off at Port Blair today.

When asked if this conglomeration of countries, who do not have the best relations with China, could sow the “seeds of suspicion”, the Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma said: “The exercise was not a “ security bloc against any maritime force….. Suspicions should not arise”.

Diplomatically, the Admiral is right, but these nations are crucial for India as it enters into power game with China. “Matters like formation of a security bloc always leave the rivals guessing,” said an officer, who was at the exercise today. “Some of the participating nations have overlapping maritime claims and we have border issues (with China)…The coming together of the naval forces is a step forward to tackle man-made and natural disasters,” said the Admiral. In Naval parlance, man-made disasters include terror attacks like the 26/11in which the sea route was used.

At least three of the participating nations --- Vietnam, Malaysia and Phillipines --- have serious maritime disputes with China, whose large number of crude oil-laden ships pass through the waters of these countries. China has been disputing the control of few islands off the maritime boundaries of these countries.

“India, in the past, has build “bridges” with these nations. However, the participation of countries like Australia and New Zealand in the “Milan” exercise showcases the success of our Look East policy,” said a senior officer.

In response to another query if the Navy was factoring in the growing influence of China in the Indian Ocean, Admiral Verma said: “Navy makes its plans while taking into account of what is happening in the region and not for any specific country.”

The Navy chief also downplayed the latest assessment of the US in its Quadrennial Defence Review in which it saw a greater role for India in the Indian Ocean as a “net security provider”. “We are not coming in as headmaster…. We would like to initiate a process …and come together at constructive level,” he said.



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