China details Indian Ocean strategy and interests

China has, for the first time, attempted to spell out its strategy — and plans — to secure its interests in the Indian Ocean in its first “blue book” on the region, released here on Saturday.

The blue book makes a case for China to deepen its economic engagements with the Indian Ocean Region’s (IOR) littoral states, but stresses that Beijing’s interests will be driven by commercial — rather than military — objectives.

However, it warns that the Indian Ocean could end up “as an ocean of conflict and trouble” if countries like India, the U.S. and China failed to engage with each other more constructively as their interests begin to overlap.

In a frank assessment of China’s role in the IOR so far, the book laments that Beijing has trailed behind New Delhi and Washington in securing its interests. The 350-page book’s introduction says candidly that China “has no Indian Ocean strategy,” while India has put forward its own “Look East” policy and the U.S. has put in place its “pivot” or “rebalancing” in Asia.

Official Chinese think tanks release “blue books,” which are policy documents that put forward recommendations to the government, on a range of subjects every year. The authors of the book, published by the official Social Sciences Academic Press, say it does not represent the government’s official position. They describe it as an attempt by scholars here to bring more attention to a region which, they believe, has not received adequate focus from policymakers.

“Frank dialogue”

Ambassador Wu Jianmin, a consultant to the project who earlier served as China’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, indicated that the book was part of a larger attempt to initiate a much-needed “frank dialogue.”

“We are going through a very important phase in international relations, and the change that we are seeing is unprecedented,” he told The Hindu. “Change generates apprehension, suspicion, even fear. This is a reality that is facing us.”

“To those who say that India ‘looking east’ and China ‘looking west’ will have to lead to rivalry, we have a different perspective,” he said. “We look at the convergence that there is [in this process]. If we only focus on differences, the end result is more suspicions, rivalry and competition. But in India too, you need peace and development. This is the same for China, and for the region.”

“To my understanding,” he added, “the region is facing an unprecedented opportunity for development. My advice is if in India you have doubts about China, we must have a frank conversation, and talk to each other.”

Full article: China details Indian Ocean strategy and interests (The Hindu)

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