Ready to protect Indian interests in South China Sea: Navy Chief

FP

The Indian Navy is preparing for the contingency that it could be called upon by the government to protect Indian economic interests in the disputed South China Sea, Navy chief Admiral D K Joshi has said.

Expressing concern over the rapid modernisation of the Chinese forces, the top naval officer said the force was prepared to deploy assets if need be to protect Indian interests, particularly oil blocks allocated to it by Vietnam in the area.

"Not that we expect to be in those (South China Sea) waters very very frequently, but when the requirement is there, for example in situations where our country's interests are involved, for example ONGC Videsh etc, we will be required to go there and we are prepared for that. Are we preparing for it? Are we holding exercises of that nature? The short answer is yes," Admiral Joshi said, speaking on the eve of Navy Day.

The South China Sea dispute has seen an escalation after the Hainan province government empowered its marine police to seize and search all vessels operating in what China claims are its territorial waters.

Joshi also expressed major concern over rapid modernisation of the Chinese military. "The (Chinese) modernisation is truly impressive. Attitude I will not comment on. It is a major major cause of concern for us."

While the Navy chief downplayed the Chinese aircraft carrier programme, saying it would take time for their navy to learn to operate fighters from the sea, he said India is following the "aircraft carrier killer" ballistic missile developed by Beijing. He also hinted that India is looking at acquiring this capability. "We are evaluating it in our context — either acquire a similar capability or to think of a counter."

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