India is assuming a role in the South China Sea crises, to be particular, in the Taiwan Strait, as a part of the integrated deterrence strategy pushed by the United States to manage the burden of the conflict in terms of cost, defense, and diplomacy with regional stakeholders. A parallel of this strategy is evident in the Ukraine conflict; in the latter, the United States has been using its integrated deterrence strategy by means of European states providing Ukraine with defense equipment. The very purpose of the integrated defense strategy is to seek a regional management of conflicts in order to prevent a direct confrontation or two-front war of the United States with Russia or China.
India’s escalating entanglement in the Taiwan conflict emerges, notwithstanding its geographical remoteness from the conflict’s focal point. India’s potential degree of involvement hinges upon three core determinants. First, the trajectory of bilateral trade relations between India and the entities involved directly or indirectly in the crisis holds pivotal significance. Second, the intricacies of the strategic alliance shared between India and the United States weigh notably in shaping India’s potential engagement. Third, the expansionary trajectory of India’s military apparatus, with a pronounced emphasis on maritime domain enhancement, serves as a substantive security concern that India has diligently directed its resources toward.
The strategic reconfiguration undertaken by India during the early 2000s, entailing a shift from a framework grounded in threat assessment to one emphasizing capabilities, has yielded significant consequences for its maritime posture. This redirection of focus towards enhancing specific capabilities, as opposed to mere replication of adversaries’ quantitative assets, underscores India’s concerted shift to ensure the preservation of its maritime security across the expanse of the Indian Ocean Region. India intends to manage the Indian Ocean’s militarization by China through India’s military engagement in the Taiwan Strait Crisis.
Submarine warfare is a domain where India finds space to contribute to in the Taiwan Strait Crisis. The Quad countries are working together to counter China’s gray zone tactics and prevent the balance of power from shifting in favour of China in the Taiwan Strait. Recently, India sent its naval warships and P-8I Poseidon anti-submarine warfare aircraft to participate in the Malabar 2023 naval exercise, conducting anti-submarine warfare operations, practicing sea deterrence and operations, and interoperability as strategic signalling to balance China’s power in the Asia-Pacific region, including the Taiwan Strait. In August 2022, India accused China of “militarization of the Taiwan Strait” following the docking of a Chinese military ship ‘Yuan Wang 5’ in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port, fearing that it could be used as a military base. Yuan Wang 5, is part of a group of ships operated by the People’s Liberation Army that monitor satellite and missile launches. In 2019, China warned India and the US against assisting Taiwan in building submarines, emphasizing that countries with ties to Beijing should adhere to the ‘One-China Principle’ and refrain from establishing military connections with Taipei. Reported, six foreign companies, including one from India, submitted submarine design proposals for Taiwan. In 2021, Taipei acknowledged with hiring engineers, technicians and former naval officers from six states, including India to help in its submarine programme.
In addition to India in the Quad, it would also add to India’s geo-strategic positioning as an international stakeholder in the Asia-Pacific region. In the context of Quad, a crisis in the Taiwan Straits serves to concurrently position New Delhi as a significant balancer. Consequently, India stands to gain advantages from both China’s challenges and the Quad’s apprehensions. This perpetuated state of affairs aligns favorably with India’s interests.
Besides international aspects of this involvement, it has an internal dimension as well which has a significant impact on India’s territorial sovereignty. In October 2020, the Chinese embassy communicated to Indian journalists, urging them to adhere to the “one China policy” and refrain from contravening it when covering events related to Taiwan’s National Day. Hence, India’s intervention in the Taiwan Strait crises is a diplomatic maneuvering by Indian policy makers to manage India’s territorial disputes with China, especially along the LAC in Ladakh.
Comprehending the shifting intricacies within this sphere assumes paramount importance, given India’s potential to exert substantial influence upon regional stability. Given the case of submarine collaboration with Taiwan, India has a long way to go to be able to match China’s advancement in submarine warfare and also to be a potential market for submarines in the region. India faces challenges in modernizing its submarine fleet and the urgency of replenishing its naval inventory. Its operational conventional submarine count has decreased to 16, with many being over 30 years old and overdue for retirement. Efforts to increase this number, such as the P75 program with France to build Scorpene-class submarines, have faced significant delays. The first submarine was inducted in 2017, and the last one is expected to be inducted in early 2024. India’s submarine strength is diminishing compared to China, which has over 50 diesel-powered submarines and 10 nuclear submarines, and even compared to Pakistan, which is acquiring new submarines with advanced technology. The Indian Navy hopes for an expedited tendering process to avoid further delays in acquiring new submarines.
Hence, India’s accusation of militarization of Taiwan Strait by China, its strategic signaling through Quad, and potential military collaboration may be analyzed as a mechanism to create leverage for India in its negotiations with China over India’s strategic interests in the Indian Ocean Region.