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Rivalry in the Indian Ocean: How will the Canadian navy be affected?

China and India: Great Power Rivals
Mohan Malik
First Forum Press, 2011

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made his first state visit to India at the same time that his government was preparing to approve the purchase of a major Alberta oil sands player by a Chinese state-owned corporation. In China and India: Great Power Rivals, Mohan Malik, a professor with the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, provides context through which to view those two events.

As Malik explains, both China and India are much more than mere nation states cut from a Western mould. Rather, these rivals are long established major civilizations. The Art of War was written by Sun Tzu before Alexander the Great displayed his talents and is still in print. Forms of the Indian treatise on economy and government, the Arthashastra, appeared centuries before Christianity. Professor Malik points out “no civilization is more history conscious than the Chinese.”

Canada’s tenure as a sovereign state will total 150 years in 2017, a fraction compared to the thousands of years of history of both the Indian and Chinese civilizations. Unfortunately, half of our short relationship with these two re-energized civilizations has been most notable for petty discrimination against both peoples emigrating to, or even entering, our newly minted nation.

Moreover, the Chinese world view sees “collective entities” either as “subordinates” or as “enemies,” Malik notes. The cultural mindset, developed over thousands of years, suggests two civilizations that would see any minor or even middle-sized power adjacent to the United States simply as an American “vassal.” We may supply raw material for our own short-term economic benefit, but Canada will remain an “enemy” at least to China, for we can be too easily made “subordinate” to the U.S.

Indeed, the author’s “burden of history” suggests it must be difficult for both Chinese and Indian decision-makers to fathom the nature of our present relationship with the Americans. In one of the two indexed references to Canada, he alleges that China is trying to wean Canada, among other American allies, “away from Washington.”

Naturally, the book addresses how the Indians and Chinese view each other. Of note, India is the only large economy not in debt to China. Ominously, Malik notes that a stronger China has “no magnanimity for accommodation,” a view that might seem validated by China’s recent retaliation over Japan’s purchase of the Senkaku islands (or Diaoyu islands to China) by stopping Toyota  imports and restricting Chinese tourist visits to Japan.

Readers will have to decide if Canada can play a role in the many flashpoints between these two civilizations, such as Tibet, the China-Pakistan-India Triangle, Burma, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. However, Canada does have a part to play in some of the “multilateral maneuvers” being undertaken by both countries.

For example, although ironically Nehru rejected the offer of Taiwan’s “China” permanent seat on the Security Council in the 1950s, China now opposes, with its veto, any suggestion that a simple vote, such as the one that gave Communist China its permanent seat, could be the process for granting rival India a “veto” seat. To date, Canada has opposed further permanent Security Council members.

Given both our sale of petroleum resources and our limited naval presence in the Indian Ocean, Malik’s chapter on energy flows and maritime rivalries in that ocean makes for absorbing reading. Not only is this an emerging arena for conflict between these two powers, in my opinion the appearance of their expanding naval presence in the Indian Ocean has disturbing future ramifications for our own West coast waterways. The submarine presence in World War II of our then Soviet ally off Vancouver Island will be nothing in comparison to Chinese naval protection of the oil flow to their homeland. By 2040, the Chinese navy will be escorting tankers off Prince Rupert and perhaps even attempting to obtain nearby port facilities. Does this make Royal Canadian Navy fleet modernization and deployment on the West Coast a priority?

In the short-term, Malik sees an “urgent need to frame the rules of engagement and naval confidence building measures amongst regional navies to promote stability.” He suggests holding a conference of the major stakeholders in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. At present Canada is not even an observer at the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium. Does our limited naval presence either in the form of warships or at naval forums reinforce Indian and Chinese perceptions of Canada as simply an American vassal? Perhaps access to our resources can be used to get Canada in the loop for maritime decisions revolving around the Indian Ocean. Chinese interest in the Arctic is a whole other matter.

Malik posits five scenarios based on 2040 and seen within the United States-China-India triangle, which he believes will dominate Asian geopolitics as these three powers compete, cooperate, collide and collude with each other. It’s worth noting that not all scenarios are desirable for Canada.

– reviewed by Roy Thomas, MSC, CD, MA (RMC)

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