Months after US President Barack Obama named India as a "key ally" in America's new strategic focus on China and a "rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region", India's Navy chief stated that India's focus was on the Indian Ocean rather than the South China Sea.
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi to announce the near-operational status of indigenous nuclear submarine INS Arihant today, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma said notwithstanding "major policy statements from the US, from our perspective the primary areas of interest to us is from the Malacca Strait to the (Persian/Arabian) Gulf in the west, and to the Cape of Good Hope in the south … the Pacific and the South China Sea are of concern to us, but activation in those areas is not on the cards."
The admiral pointed instead to the Indian Navy's cooperation with China, particularly in anti-piracy patrols off West Asia, where the Indian, Chinese and Japanese navies coordinate their patrolling.
The Navy chief talked down any prospect of coordinating with the US Navy, making it clear that lowering, not raising, tensions was in India's interest.
"Certainly as far as rebalancing is concerned, we don't want a situation where something happens in (the) South China Sea to upset global shipping because it is going to have an impact on everybody. I do believe there are efforts on from the major powers that are involved in South China Sea and they will also calibrate their steps so that such a situation does not arise," he said.
The US and India have held extensive discussions on the evolving situation in the Asia-Pacific. US assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, Andrew Shapiro met with Indian officials in April, renewing the political-military dialogue after a gap of six years.