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Sino-Indian Conflict: Andaman Isles After Ladakh

Sino-Indian Conflict: Andaman Isles After Ladakh

Andaman-Islands

India is seeking to take control of the Bay of Bengal to arrest China’s trade routes in the area due to its strategic significance

When India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the first ever undersea optical fibre project for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands earlier in August, the importance of the project far outweighed a fantabulous inauguration.

On the surface, the project is aimed at providing high speed broadband connections in the Union Territory at par with services in the mainland.

But at a deeper level, it has provided a firm signal to India’s maritime rivals in the Indian Ocean region.

Taking a cue from the stand-off with the People’s Liberation Army(PLA) of China in eastern Ladakh, Indian defence authorities have now resolved to do everything to protect its interests in the international waters.

The Andaman Nicobar Command(ANC) having land, air and sea under a single operational command, has gained immense strategic importance in view of China’s expanding strategic presence in the Indian Ocean Region(IOR).

The archipelago, which straddles major global trade routes, can be used by India as an effective pivot to stall China’s naval trade.

Because the bulk of China’s oil supplies and trade pass through the sea lanes in this region.

Secondly, this ANC enables India to get direct access to Malacca Strait and South East Asia, besides the Bay of Bengal.

Hence, in the event of any face-off, India can quickly manoeuvre its warships and fighter aircraft from the naval bases at Port Blair and other islands to `choke’ the Chinese supplies.

According to defence sources, work for extension of runways at both INS Kohassa and INS Baaz at Campbell Bay in the south of the archipelago has already been undertaken.

In fact, it is part of the Rs 5,650 crore revamping operation taken up a year back, which includes an air enclave with a 10,000ft  military-grade runway at Kamorta island as well.

The expansion of China’s maritime power, coupled with its rising economic and political influence in the Indian Ocean region, has already led to a permanent Chinese presence in the region that could effectively neutralise India’s geographic advantage in the Indian Ocean.

With PLA having caught the Indian army almost unwares in Ladakh, India is loathe to allow it a repeat performance in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago.

Because, the nearest Chinese presence from the archipelago is barely 600 kms, short enough for a surprise strike.

The slew of announcements by the prime minister only reflect how seriously India is seized with the threat from the PLA navy.

The Rs1,224 crore  2,312-kms long submarine optical fibre cable project connecting Chennai – Andaman and Nicobar Islands (CANI) and a promised Rs 10,000 cr deep sea transshipment port at Greater Nicobar Island envisage creation of a solid infrastructure in proximity to the channel connecting Japan,China and Australia.

Apart from increasing India’s share in the maritime trade, the state- of-the-art port would enable Indian Navy a  greater maneuverability in the Indian Ocean.

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The latest efforts by PLANavy to militarise the South China Sea(SCS) and expand its sea footprint have been viewed with concern not only by India, but also by the United States, Japan, Australia, Vietnam and Thailand among others.

The menacing presence of PLA  Navy in ports of Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Myanmar,Iran and Horn of Africa has become a serious cause for worry for the US, Japan, India and Australia.

As for India, another worrying factor is China’s latest move to woo Sri Lanka to increase its presence in port at Colombo.

The United States has long opposed China’s expansive territorial claims on the South China Sea, sending warships regularly through the strategic waterway to demonstrate freedom of navigation.

Hence, when the USS Nimitz, the world’s largest aircraft carrier, took part in the naval exercise in the Indian ocean with the Indian Navy in July end, it gave a firm signal to Beijing that its ‘extra-terrestrial aspirations’  in both land and water would be firmly dealt with in the wake of the Galwan combat.

“From Chennai to Port Blair, Port Blair to Little Andaman and Port Blair to Swaraj Dweep, this service (optical fibre connection) has started in large part of Andaman Nicobar,” Modi said after inaugurating the project.

Besides, Port Blair, it will connect other islands namely Swaraj Dweep (Havlock), Long Island, Rangat, Little Andaman, Kamorta, Car Nicobar and Greater Nicobar.

Over 300 km of national highway in the region is expected to be completed in a record time, he said.

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