Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman has expressed concern over the increasing militarisation of the Indian Ocean with extra-regional nations setting up ''near permanent presence'', in an otherwise peaceful region.
In an apparent reference to the expanding Chinese presence in the region, Sitharaman said there is an ''incremental yet steady'' increase in numbers of warships operating in the region, adding, this militarisation ''increases the complexities for the countries of this region.''
''We have also witnessed extra-regional nations maintain near permanent presence within the region on one pretext or the other. In order to sustain such a presence through operational turn around, these countries which are extra-regional are creating naval outposts as well as dual-use infrastructure in the region,'' Sitharaman said.
She was addressing the first Goa Maritime Conclave (GMC) of Navy Chiefs of Indian Ocean littoral states hosted by the Indian Navy at the Naval War College in Goa.
The GMC, which will be held every year, aims to ''bring together like-minded countries to evolve collective responses to challenges in the maritime domain.''
"Goa Maritime Conclave aims to bring together like-minded nations to evolve and formulate collective responses to emerging challenges in the maritime domain. The future of the world will be shaped to large extent by the political and economic interaction between stakeholders in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR)," Sitharaman said.
She said it is good that the compulsion of globalisation has enabled economies to shape transactional relationships between nations and opaqueness in strategic intent and incoherent behaviour of some nations.
The impasse in international relationships is a product of many costs such as ideological differences, political insecurity, economic and technological dependency, inequitable access to resources, besides other factors, she added.
Sitharaman said that land-based disputes and riparian issues which are predominantly a legacy of colonial rule are key causes for conflict.
''As international behaviour in the maritime domain is influenced considerably by land-based imperatives, cordiality or latent hostility prevalent among nations on land tends to get reflected in the seas too,'' she stated.
"The net impact of these differences is that trust deficits and tensions between nations continue to persist on account of perceived challenges," she added.
In the last few years, China has set up or acquired stakes in a series of infrastructure facilities in the region and has recently opened its first overseas military base at Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.
The Chinese Navy has also maintained a steady presence of warships and submarines in the Indian Ocean under the garb of anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.
The Indian Navy has now put in place a new concept of 'mission-based deployment' to maintain round the clock surveillance on India's vital areas of interest across the length and breadth of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).