A two-thousand mile fishing trip

China caught snooping off India’s Andaman Islands

Even as China’s Prime Minister Wen was shaking hands and exchanging friendly words with Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit, some of its ‘fishermen’ were nosing around India’s Andaman Islands with rather unusual kinds of fishing rods.

News Insight suggests that these vessels were conducting magnetic resonance studies of the seabed, the results of which would be very useful in the deployment of submarines. China’s navy views its submarine fleet — equipped with nuclear/ballistic missiles — as the best means of projecting power in the Pacific and Indian oceans. The recent appointment of Admiral Zhang Dingfa, a career submariner, as the chief of its navy demonstrates the centrality of submarines to its naval strategy.

Given the diplomatic delicacy of the moment, India has refrained from turning this episode into a major issue, unlike Japan, that demanded (and apparently received) an apology before turning off all aid to China in response to a submarine intrusion. But India would do well to avoid giving the Chinese navy an impression that such activities will be tolerated. Any response needs to be nuanced, but the point must be driven home, perhaps along the lines of joint exercises with Japanese naval self-defence forces and the US Pacific Fleet.

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