In the backdrop of a debate on the future direction of Sino-Indian relations, two former Foreign Secretaries, Shyam Saran and Shiv Shankar Menon have separately advocated that New Delhi collaborate with Beijing along with other stake holders in shaping the security architecture in the Indian Ocean region.
The suggestions came a week apart with Mr. Menon suggesting here on Friday that India should initiate a discussion on a collective security arrangement between major powers whose bulk of energy and trade flows through the Indian Ocean.
''For China, as for India and Japan, energy security is intimately linked to keeping the sea lanes open in the Indian Ocean. The threats to energy flows in the Indian Ocean come not for the major powers (such as India, the USA, China or Japan), all of whom have a shared interest in keeping these sea lanes working’’, Mr Menon said in his lecture on ''Maritime Imperatives of Indian Foreign Policy’’ organised by the National Maritime Foundation.
On September 5, at a seminar in Port Blair on security and development, Mr. Saran said India should actively participate in shaping the emerging economic and security architecture in the region in close collaboration with all stakeholders including China. This arrangement, he said, should be ''open, inclusive and loosely structured’’.
Rejecting any contradiction in Sino-Indian relations, Mr. Saran said India needs a nuanced policy that ''builds upon possible areas of congruence and deals firmly, though prudently with situations where our interests are being threatened…There is no inevitability of conflict with China….there is enough space in this region and beyond for both China and India to be ascendant…’’
Mr. Menon said immediate threats come from local instability and problems in the choke points and certain littorals, particularly the Straits of Hormuz and the Horn of Africa and that military application would not solve the problem.
''This is the test of wisdom and is where China and other states can chose to be part of the solution rather than of the problem. My question is therefore: if energy and trade flows and security are the issues, why not begin discussing collective security arrangements among the major powers concerned?’’, he said.
Mr. Menon sought to know was it not time for India to begin a discussion among concerned states of a maritime system to minimise the risks of interstate conflict and neutralise threats from pirates, smugglers, terrorists, and proliferators.
He felt that India’s concerns in the northwest Indian Ocean and China’s vulnerabilities in the northeast Indian Ocean cannot be solved by military means alone. The issue, he said, was not just limited to the region but was also one of security of the trade and energy flows in areas and seas which affect the choke points.
Mr. Menon was emphatic in declaring there were no Chinese bases in the Indian Ocean despite talk of the ''string of pearls’’, which he said was a pretty ineffective murder weapon. However, China was conducting extensive port development activity in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan and had an active weapons supply programme to these countries.
However, he said the question remains whether and to what extent this improved access and infrastructure by China would translate into basing arrangement and political influence in future.
On his part, Mr. Saran cautioned that while India should build its economic strength and military capabilities, the key to meeting the challenge it perceives not just from China but from quarters not anticipated.