A Chinese submarine docked in the Pakistani port of Karachi last month, the first time that such a visit has taken place.
Various media outlets report that a People’s Liberation Army Navy Yuan-class 335 submarine docked in Karachi on May 22, before spending around a week in port receiving supplies, writes Zachary Keck for The National Interest.
India monitoring submarine activity
The submarine has a crew of approximately 65 sailors, and is “equipped with torpedoes, anti-ship missiles and an air-independent propulsion that dramatically enhances its underwater endurance,” according to India Today.
Despite a calm official response to the submarine activity, this is not the first time that the movements of Chinese submarines have annoyed India. Last September, the port of Colombo, Sri Lanka, received a Song-class diesel-electric attack submarine, a fact which greatly annoyed Indian officials. Several weeks after that first docking, a second submarine arrived in Sri Lanka.
When asked about the docking of the Chinese submarine in Karachi, Indian vice admiral P Murugesan told the Hindustan Times that the “docking of a submarine belonging to some other country in a third country itself is not a big concern but we do monitor them, whichever submarines operate in our region.”
China increasingly active in Indian Ocean
He moved to assuage fears of a naval alliance between China and Pakistan, saying only that the Indian Navy is “also having relations with numerous countries but we monitor in our neighborhood who is interacting with which other navy.”
Following the docking of its submarines in Sri Lanka, China allegedly told India that it would be carrying out patrols of the Indian Ocean using its Type-093 Shang-class nuclear-powered attack submarines.
The patrols provoked great controversy in India, with some analysts wondering whether the Chinese could attempt to blockade India using its nuclear-powered submarines.
Relations between Paskistan, China and India increasingly complicated
Politicians in New Delhi tend to regard the Indian Ocean as the country’s natural domain, and Chinese patrols are sure to cause annoyance. Perhaps more worrying for India are discussions between China and Pakistan regarding the sale of advanced submarines from Beijing to Islamabad. Reports claim that a deal is in place for the sale of 8 submarines in the near future.
Various media outlets in India have indicated that the submarines in question may be Yuan-class, one of which recently docked in Karachi. The reports raised suspicions that the visit may have been made so that Pakistani Navy figures could get to know the submarines which they may soon be able to operate.
Relations between Pakistan are growing stronger and stronger, and India is worried by the latest developments. A proposed Chinese-funded economic corridor through Pakistani Kashmir provoked serious opposition from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the traditionally difficult relationship between Beijing and New Delhi shows no signs of improving.
Chinese activity spooks India
The situation is further complicated by an increasingly aggressive war of words between India and Pakistan, with both sides provoking the other with aggressive rhetoric. The specters of past conflicts in Bangladesh, as well as the ongoing dispute over Kashmir, have raised their ugly heads again, as hawkish figures on both sides contribute to a sense that the risk of conflict is growing.
At the same time, increasingly assertive behavior from China poses another threat to Indian security, and the thought of Beijing selling advanced weapons to Islamabad, which could be used in a potential war against India, is surely a nightmarish situation for New Delhi.
China has been increasing its international reach of late, and its submarines have been undertaking longer patrols. A number of commentators believe that China is pursuing a so-called “String of Pearls” strategy, under which its vessels can use a number of Chinese-built ports across the Indian Ocean to restock and refuel, as well as increasing the Chinese presence in the region.
If the sale of advanced submarines to Pakistan does go ahead, India will understandably be worried by their capabilities and their existence as evidence of a close relationship between Beijing and Islamabad. The extended range of Chinese naval operations is also a worry for New Delhi, which now faces the possibility of a foreign power possessing stronger armed forces in its back yard.
China presumably sees great benefit in cultivating a close relationship with Pakistan, whether for economic reasons, such as the proposed corridor, or because of the fact that a stronger Pakistan gives India something else to worry about.The geopolitical situation in the region is becoming increasingly complicated as the interests of various nations become intertwined.