“India has no intention of becoming a regional test balloon by going against China”

The launch of India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant on Monday has been seen by Chinese analysts as reflecting India’s “ambition to dominate the Indian Ocean” and heralding a greater Indian presence in the Pacific.

The official China Daily on Monday quoted analysts at several Chinese think-tanks as saying the development of the aircraft carrier, as well as the readiness of India’s first nuclear submarine for sea trials, were significant steps towards enabling India to project power across the oceans, not only in the Indian Ocean, but also eastward in the Pacific.

Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Naval Military Studies Research Institute, said the Indian Navy was now “more capable of patrolling distant oceans when the carrier is in service.”

He also added that the developments “will further disrupt the military balance in South Asia” and lead India “to quicken its pace to steer eastward to the Pacific.”

Wang Daguang, a military researcher in Beijing, added to the newspaper that the carrier would “further strengthen India’s naval power and also add some bargaining chips with the world’s major military vendors such as Russia.”

Separately on Monday, the Communist Party-run Global Times, a tabloid known for its hard-line views, published a commentary arguing that it would be “wishful thinking” on the part of the U.S. to bring India into an alliance aimed at containing China.

“According to the U.S. geostrategic desires, in order to push India to integrate into its system to contain China, the U.S. not only encourages India to move east but also brings up the concept of an “Indo-Pacific” to justify India’s intervention in Asia-Pacific affairs,” argued Fu Xiaoqiang, a scholar at the China Institutes for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), a prominent Beijing think-tank.

“However,” he added, “India still has various concerns over the U.S. rebalancing strategy for the region. On the one hand, New Delhi worries this may stimulate China to develop weaponry and draw India into an open confrontation with China. This is obviously far from India’s interests, since India prefers balancing China naturally by ensuring peaceful and fruitful competition. India has no intention of becoming a regional test balloon by going against China.”

Several recent Chinese commentaries have debated India’s role in the U.S. “pivot” or rebalancing towards Asia. Only last week, Ruan Zongze, a strategic scholar at a think-tank affiliated to the Foreign Ministry, suggested that India, unlike Japan or the Philippines, would not be influenced by the U.S. and move away from its “strategic autonomy.”

Mr. Fu in his commentary echoed a similar view, suggesting India would be opposed to “being reduced to a strategic vassal of the U.S., which will block its path to becoming a great power in the world.”

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