Southeast Asia and the Rise of Chinese and Indian Naval Power: Between Rising Naval Powers

Southeast Asia and the Rise of Chinese and Indian Naval Power

Author(s):  Sam Bateman and Joshua Ho, (eds)

ISBN:          13-978-0-415-55955-3

Publisher:  Routledge

Year:           2010

Price:           £75.00

Reviewed by Rajiv Ranjan, Doctoral Candidate in Chinese Studies at the Centre for East Asian Studies, School of International Studies of Jawaharlal Nehru University

‘The most powerful navy will control the globe’, propounded by Alfred Thayer Mahan, palpably persuaded and constructed US maritime strategy, enabling the US to dominate the sea. While Mahan’s strategic thinking still influences American policy makers, it has also been largely borrowed by regional powers to protect and serve their interests in near seas, if not controlling the region. It is inevitable that Southeast Asia, which links the Indian and Pacific Oceans, will be at the very centre of a new power play, with rapidly increasing naval prowess of China and India. China and India require uninterrupted supply of energy and raw materials for their developmental path. Sea is a major source of raw material and sea transport is efficient and effective. It is, therefore, pertinent for China and India to protect sea line of communications (SLOCs) together with territorial integrity. Strategic interests of China and India overlaps in Southeast Asia, making strategically important for both countries to increase their presence and credibility in the region. For this, maritime strategy certainly serves the purpose of both China and India. But what interested the most the editors of this volume is how this theatre of conflict among rising naval powers, i.e., China and India, affects the nations of the region and the role of major powers therein.

The book imperatively proposes preventative diplomacy and confidence building measures to enhance relations between these two powers and reduce strategic competition in order to avoid any negative impact on Southeast Asia. Although, India is actively engaged in confidence building measures through naval exercises with major powers and Southeast Asian countries, absence of transparency in China’s intentions and additional Chinese naval deployments to South China Sea create mistrust among states (p.41).

Building on this theory, the volume compiles scholarly written articles presented at a conference, jointly organised by S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi held in Singapore, November 2008. The book has been divided into three parts. First part covers the regional strategic environment, while the second deals with contemporary regional maritime security and the third seeks to predict the future of maritime cooperation in the region. In his engaging article, C. Raja Mohan emphasizes that rising naval powers, China and India, help to dilute the hierarchy among the multiple power centres in Asia and thus underpinning the prospect of Asian Multipolarity (p. 11). Maritime debate thus is an attempt to build Asian institutions for promoting regional integration. Huang Jing narrates the story of expansion of the Chinese navy and the paradigm shift in Chinese naval strategy from ‘Mao’s Peoples’ War’ to ‘active defence’ strategy (p. 28). But the striking feature of the strategy is emphasis on necessity to ‘protect the boundary of national interest rather than that of national territory’ (p.30). Bronson Percival gives an account of the American maritime strategy in Asia in changing situation and believes that preventing wars is as important as winning wars. For him, creation and maintenance of security at sea is essential to mitigate threats short of war, including piracy, terrorism, weapon proliferation, drug trafficking and other illicit activities’ (p.39).

Therefore, it is imperative for the US to enhance its security alliance and partnership in Asia for setting up naval strategy.  Sam Bateman’s assessment of threats and risks vividly portrays the complex and difficult terrain of maritime security in the region. Climate change, intruder submarine incidents, maritime terrorism and sovereignty clash in Southeast Asia over portions of land can severely hamper maritime security in the region. For him, the clash between China and India, with a wide theatre of operations including warfare at sea, would have a catastrophic impact on Southeast Asia (p.108). The third part of the book deals with measures to boost confidence and co-operation among participating states. Pradeep Chauhan, Li Ming Jinag and Kwa Chong Guan present the perspectives of India, China and Southeast Asia respectively to improve and sustain co-operation and boost confidence among the countries. No doubt, the book is an attempt to understand the growing maritime challenges, with the rise of Chinese and Indian naval powers and increasing non-traditional threats and its impact on Southeast Asia. Canvassing opinions of different scholars from across the region and that of major powers, indeed strengthens the credibility and empirical precision of the book. The book, nevertheless, lacks objective analysis of facts pertaining to confidence building measures among two naval powers and countries of Southeast Asia.

Sam Bateman perceives naval exercises between India and other states as India’s attempt of power projection and assertiveness while other contributors view it as a means to build confidence. Devbrat Chakrborty fails to provide an Indian perspective on maritime security environment and unnecessarily discusses economic, energy and bilateral relations. While reading the book, one is puzzled by editorial errors. The content list includes the name of Devbrat Chakraborty but the contributor list do not, while it lists Commodore Nalin Dewan with no chapter in his name. The book is a timely intervention with an interdisciplinary approach and aimed at policy makers, research scholars and strategic thinkers interested in maritime strategy and naval developments both at global and regional levels. Readers interested to understand the complexity of Asian affairs, will indeed benefit from this valuable compilation.