Chinese expert says the word backyard is not very appropriate to use for an open sea and international areas of sea

Beijing : China recognises India’s special role in stabilising the strategic Indian Ocean region but the perception that it is India’s “backyard” may result in clashes, Chinese military officials and experts have cautioned.

 “The word backyard is not very appropriate to use for an open sea and international areas of sea,” Senior Captain Zhao Yi, Associate Professor of the Institute of Strategy in China’s National Defence University, said during a rare candid interaction with the resident Indian journalists here and a visiting Indian media delegation.

“I admit geographically speaking India has a special role to play in stabilising Indian Ocean and the South Asian region,” he said while replying to a question on rising concerns in India over the Chinese navy’s increasing forays into the Indian Ocean. If the India views the Indian Ocean as backyard then how the navies from United States, Russia and Australia have free navigation in the Indian Ocean, he asked. Citing the observations of a US researcher who predicted that Indian Ocean could be the focus of 21st century and as a result severe clashes could breakout, Capt Zhao said though he did not agree with American scholar such a possibility cannot be “eliminated” if the Indian Ocean is continued to be perceived as India’s backyard. Chinese navy’s increasing presence in the Indian Ocean comes in the background of the release of a White Paper published by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) recently, outlining a new military strategy enhancing its navy’s duties for the first time to “open seas protection” far from its shores.         Also the presence of Chinese submarines at Colombo port last year and most recently in Karachi sparked concerns in India.

The interaction between the Indian media and a team of Chinese military experts headed by Spokesman of the Chinese Defence Ministry, Senior Colonel Yang Yujun, arranged by the All China Journalists Association was aimed at promoting better understanding between the two countries as they seek to forge closer political, military and trade ties.    Zhang Wei, Researcher of the PLA Navy Academic Institute, said since 1985, Chinese navy ships visited lot of countries in the Indian Ocean region including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

More Chinese ships are crossing the Indian Ocean as it has become a major pipeline for trade for China, she said. Also Chinese navy’s presence there is to protect the security of sea lines specially against piracy. The PLA navy provided escort services to over 6,000 ships in Gulf of Aden half of them were foreign vessels, Zhang said. “So I do not agree that the presence of Chinese naval ship is expansion of the Chinese military,” Zhang said. “The Chinese government has been very prudent in handling PLA navy’s navigation to the Indian ocean. Most of time our submarines go to Indian Ocean, we diplomatically inform our neighbouring countries. We should enhance cooperation in order to enhance mutual trust at the level of military and government. By conducting trainings and mutual visits, mutual trust can be gained,” she said.

Sandeep Dahiya and K J M Varma

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