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India is increasing its vigilance against China's growing maritime activities and economic influence. A forum was held recently in the southern state of Goa on how New Delhi can deal with Beijing's assertiveness.
The forum in December was attended by more than 100 experts, including Indian government security officials and foreign ministry bureaucrats. At the top of the agenda were security and economic strategies. A common concern was China's naval activities close to home in the Indian Ocean.
"The case in point being deployment of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean for anti-piracy operations. Normally, I mean, all nations use ships and not submarines for such missions," said Indian Navy Commodore Ashok Rai.
China is developing ports and infrastructure in other countries, hoping they will become key sea lanes to the Middle East. Sri Lanka and Pakistan allow Chinese submarines to use its ports -- and receive generous economic support from China. India is concerned that China may try to repeat what it did in the South China Sea, and unilaterally build hubs in the Indian Ocean.
One expert who says it is difficult to predict China's next step is former Indian National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon. "China is a state and it’s not just a state, it’s a party which is a state. It’s an army which became a party which became a state. Frankly, those categories that we apply to our societies are completely irrelevant in China," he said.
India has launched its first domestically-made submarine with the primary mission of vigilance against China's maritime expansion in the Indian Ocean. "The challenge to India is changing. We need our defense capability to be optimally prepared for that change," said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
At the forum, concerns were also raised about China's "Belt and Road" initiative which aims to create a sprawling economic zone. "It has also tried to get global endorsement of its one-belt one-road initiative which is exclusively Chinese-design and to be executed mainly by Chinese companies with Chinese financing," said Former Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran.
Many participants said India should build mutually beneficial relationships that focus on regional cooperation -- unlike China, which is pressing neighbors for stronger ties in return for economic favors