On 23rd September 2020, Takshashila Institution hosted a #DeepWebinar focused on exploring the possibilities for India to leverage its sea power against China. It included RAdm. Sudarshan Shrikhande(Retd.) on the dais and as discussants Cdr. Digvijay Sodha(Retd.) (an Indian Navy Veteran and alumnus of King’s College, London), Nischitha Suresh (an Independent IR Researcher and Program Manager) and Niranjan Oak (Senior Research Scholar at the Centre for Indo-Pacific Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University). Aditya Ramanathan, Research Analyst at Takshashila Institution anchored the discussion as the host. The conversation began with deliberation on India’s capability and recent efforts to leverage its sea power against China.
On the dais RAdm. Shrikhande began by pointing to the Peloponnesian War to underline the vitality of Seapower in determining conflicts throughout history. The current India-China situation, he remarked, also has a dimension of seapower to it. He further elaborated that naval power provides both coalitional leverage and deterrent leverage to a conflict situation. India, he said, should pay greater attention to collaborating with ASEAN countries on naval matters, in order to counter the Chinese.
The first discussant to speak Cdr. Digvijay Sodha(Retd.) then inquired from RAdm. Shrikhande how India should go about practically developing strategic alliances with other nations in the region. In reply RAdm. Shrikhande said that India should take a leaf out of China’s strategy book and realise that what is happening in the Himalayas at the moment can also happen at sea.
RAdm. Shrikhande then remarked that India’s current talks with China’s are turning out to be conference-building measures instead of confidence-building measures.
The second discussant to speak Niranjan Oak then asked why India’s strategic posture seems to be so defensive, to which RAdm. Shrikhande said that given China’s assertive, belligerent and bellicose posturing, India must let China know that it cannot be business as usual between the two countries. RAdm. Shrikhande went on to remark that protecting India’s interests is the main goal of India’s foreign policy. Therefore, strategic autonomy can not mean that India disadvantages its own interests. India must reevaluate its naval strength so that it is advantageous to itself and its allies.
The third discussant Nischitha Suresh then asked how India can counter its neighbours being lulled by China’s debt-trap diplomacy, to which RAdm. Shrikhande said that since India is a democracy, its strategy must be more inclusive and attractive than that of an authoritarian nation like China and India should use its impression of being a liberal democracy against China’s authoritarian image effectively. RAdm. Shrikhande then remarked that India’s naval strategy must make it clear that India does not recognize China’s claim in the South China Sea.
Responding to another question by Niranjan Oak about whether it is pertinent for India to invest in underwater drones, RAdm. Shrikhande said that no major country can afford to ignore China’s expenditure on building underwater combat capabilities. Similarly responding to another question by Nischitha Suresh about the role of the Quad in strengthening India’s Seapower, RAdm. Shrikhande remarked that Quad is a good first step but it need not be restricted to four countries and should include the ASEAN nations as well going forward.
Towards the end of the session In response to an audience question about which specific areas India should invest in for building its seapower, RAdm. Shrikhande remarked that India must ramp up its investment in submarines, underwater drones and advanced sensors.
About the Takshashila Institution
The Takshashila Institution is an independent center for research and education in public policy. It is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that advocates the values of freedom, openness, tolerance, pluralism and responsible citizenship. The Takshashila Institution seeks to transform India through better public policies, bridging the governance gap by developing better public servants, civil society leaders, professionals and informed citizens. The video of the #DeepWebinar can be assessed on Takshashila Institution’s Youtube Channel.