JUNE 30, 2015 (MAMOSA Report by Irshad Salim) — A Chinese submarine (China’s deadliest attack submarine) docked in Pakistan for the first time ever last month. While the Pakistani media reported it in the spirit of business-as-usual, the Indian media attempted to paint it as a “threat” to its maritime security.
According to numerous media outlets, it was a People’s Liberation Army Navy conventional Yuan-class 335 submarine that docked in Karachi on May 22 for a week in order to receive replenishments.
The Yuan-class submarine is “equipped with torpedoes, anti-ship missiles and an air-independent propulsion that dramatically enhances its underwater endurance,” reported Indian media outlets.
It therefore seems to have caused great concern among the Indian security officials.
One influential Indian newspaper wrote, “It is a matter of speculation as to what precisely was the mission of the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N). Whatever it might have been, it was a measure of the transformation of the Chinese Navy. For decades it used to operate close to the Chinese shores. Today it has emerged as a “blue-water force with long legs” that has been expanding its presence in the Indian Ocean region.”
This is not the first time that Chinese submarine deployments have rattled India in recent months. A Song-class diesel-electric attack docked in Colombo, Sri Lanka last September, greatly irking New Delhi. Just a few weeks later, a second Chinese submarine docked in Sri Lanka as well.
Around the same time, China reportedly informed India that its Type-093 Shang-class nuclear-powered attack submarines would begin patrolling the Indian Ocean. This raised fears in New Delhi that China could try to blockade the Indian coastline using nuclear-powered submarines.
Besides Chinese submarines patrolling the Indian Ocean, which Delhi sees as its natural domain, China has also “angered” India by potentially selling Pakistan advanced submarines. China has also “angered” India’s PM Modi with its $46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor that will connect former’s south western region to the Middle East via Pakistan. It’s been considered a game-changer. India is unhappy.
China has allegedly promised to sell Pakistan eight submarines over the next few years. It has also earmaked $40 billion for building the Corridor — whether India or its Prime minister Modi likes it or not.
Beijing may be trying to sell Islamabad Yuan-class submarines, the same kind that docked in Karachi port last month. This raises the possibility that the submarine replenished in Karachi in order to give the Pakistani Navy a chance to inspect the submarines they may someday operate.
Again, there is nothing wrong with that. Both countries relationship is said to be “higher than the Himalayas and deeper than the Indian ocean”.
Meanwhile, Chinese submarines are conducting longer patrols as of late, including throughout the Indian Ocean. In doing so, they seem to be following what many observers have defined as China’s “String of Pearls” strategy.
This strategy uses Chinese built ports throughout the greater Indian Ocean in order to expand the Chinese Navy’s forward presence. A good example is the Colombo port, which Chinese companies invested in and help built. Other is the Gawadar Port in southern Balochistan — few miles northeast of the Gulf.
But India has been scrambling to try to thwart this strategy with little success though.
India can’t pressure Pakistan to forbid Chinese submarines from docking in its ports. India can do little to prevent China from using the international waters for its strategic purposes as they are common to all. Besides, Islamabad and Beijing have long maintained strong ties and continue to reinforce it for mutual and common regional interests — expansion of trade and economy, and collective security against terrorists activities being two major ones.
Observers say it is part of China’s anti-piracy patrols like all others are doing. However, some say that this could be China’s practising long-range deployments of its nuclear and conventional submarines on the pre-text of anti-piracy patrols.
“In fact, it can only watch with concern the increased activity of the Chinese warships and submarines around the Indian maritime waters,” wrote The New Indian Express in an editorial.
“The only way India can deal with the Chinese threat is to strengthen its own submarine fleet. It should expedite the delivery of six submarines the French have been building in India. It should also fast-track acquisition of as many submarines as possible. Given India’s size and the vast coastline it has to protect from prying “eyes”, there is an urgent need for more submarines,” the editorial said.
India is said to have only 13 submarines against China’s 60, while Pakistan has has eight operational submarines.
“They will also be capable of having nuclear payloads…What all this suggests is that New Delhi should expedite beefing up India’s submarine strength…Once India has a larger submarine fleet, it will be better placed to protect its maritime interests.”
However, the Indian Navy today said it was not a matter of big concern but they were monitoring all such activities.
“Docking of a submarine belonging to some other country in a third country itself is not a big concern but we do monitor them, whichever submarines operate in our region,” Vice Admiral P Murugesan, Vice Chief of Naval Staff, told reporters in Kolkata today.
On the perception that there is a naval build-up in India’s neighbourhood as indicated by the editorial, he said there is “no immediate concern”. “Our Navy is quite strong enough to look after our maritime interests in our area of interest.”
Though India seems to be closely tracking Chinese warships and submarines in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), it can do little since international waters or the “global commons” are open to all.