The Sea Guardian-3 exercise is taking place at a time when China has significantly expanded its naval presence in Indian Ocean waters. This includes the construction of a major base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa and the sale of several modern platforms to regional navies. Recently, China also provided 4 Type-054 A/P frigates to Pakistan Navy.
Kingston Naval Base Commander Rear Admiral Liang Yang and Pakistan Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Muhammad Faisal Abbasi also arrived on the occasion. Both described the joint exercise as a symbol of close and strategic ties between the navies.
Chinese naval vessels parked in Karachi also include Type 039 diesel-electric submarines. Its exact capability is also hidden in Chinese naval secrets. The presence of the boats in Arabian Sea waters also reflects Beijing’s confidence that it is capable of deploying naval assets thousands of kilometers from its home ports.
It is believed to be the eighth joint military exercise by the Chinese plan (People’s Liberation Army Navy) to deploy submarines in the Indian Ocean since 2013. China is also known for its nuclear-powered fast submarines in the Indian Ocean. These submarines could theoretically remain submerged indefinitely, as they did not need to surface except to load supplies on board. However, it is not clear whether this submarine has also been deployed with the Chinese fleet participating in the joint naval exercise between China and Pakistan.
Sources say this is an indication of what could be a bigger Chinese presence in the region in the future. According to sources, “It is not a question of if and when China decides to deploy a carrier battle group in the Indian Ocean region.”
The PLA Navy Type 926 Submarine Support Vessel Yangchengu is currently approaching Karachi, it was tracked from China’s Hainan Naval Base and is likely heading to Pakistan for the upcoming China-Pakistan joint naval exercise. pic.twitter.com/04vJQY4reF
— Damien Simon (@detresfa_) November 8, 2023
In April 2015, the Pakistani government reportedly agreed to buy 8 variants of the Type 039 submarines in a deal worth $5 billion. 4 of these submarines were to be built by the Karachi Shipyard and Engineering Works. No submarines have yet been delivered.
Former Naval Chief Admiral Arun Prakash (retd) told NDTV, “Our planners and decision makers have to clearly accept the fact that China has a deep interest in the Indian Ocean, especially its sea lanes, which are largely owned by China.” “These are major routes for energy, trade, raw materials and finished goods. As a result, China’s naval presence is being seen in the Indian Ocean. China has deployed warships as well as submarines here.”
The former naval chief further said, “Over the last two decades, China has built significant naval bases in the IOR (Indian Ocean Region). It is called the ‘string of pearls’. In fact, it is a series of friendly ports. China, funded by China provided. The Chinese Navy uses them when needed. In 2016, China set up its first overseas military base in Djibouti (Africa). China will continue to do so in other countries in the future.”
The process of monitoring Chinese naval assets is a continuous effort of the Indian Navy. Chinese ships go west to enter Indian Ocean waters through major choke points, the Malacca Strait, Lombok or Sunda Strait. The Indian Navy’s P-8 maritime reconnaissance aircraft and warships deployed on missions are often deployed to intercept Chinese vessels and monitor their movements for extended periods of time.
India works closely with the US to monitor the movement of Chinese warships. The US has often been India’s main maritime partner for real-time intelligence. Last week, 2+2 talks were held between the foreign and defense ministers of the two countries in New Delhi. In this, both sides underlined their ‘strong commitment to the security of a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific’. It was based on China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an ambitious initiative to build two new economic corridors connecting China to the rest of the world. China launched this initiative in 2013 with the aim of investing in more than 150 countries. Beijing supports this initiative, particularly through an increasingly strong maritime presence in the Indian Ocean region.
Sri Lanka is heavily dependent on Chinese funding for its ports and highway projects. The country has also struggled to pay its debts. The same happened in case of deep water Hambantota port. After Sri Lanka’s economic development, the port was leased to China for 99 years.
Last year, Yuan Wang 5, a Chinese research vessel, was docked in Hambantota despite security concerns raised by India. The ship was reportedly on a mission to monitor Indian missile tests from Abdul Kalam Island off the coast of Odisha.
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