Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, India has developed a distinct maritime outlook in its diplomacy and security policy. For years, there was a lack of political will to look toward India’s maritime interests. Modi’s leadership is now driving India’s maritime policy, reigniting hopes that India is finally waking up to the changes in Asia’s maritime domain.
The Indian navy released its new maritime strategy in October 2015, which emphasises international engagement and cooperation with regional partners. India also signed a Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean region with the United States, a Special Strategic and Global Partnership with Japan and a Framework for Security Cooperation with Australia.
This comes amid practical steps such as India holding its first bilateral naval exercise with Australia in September 2015 and expanding its coordinated patrol with Indonesia to a bilateral naval exercise. New Delhi has also commissioned an Indian-built patrol ship for Mauritius and is boosting military and civilian assistance to its island neighbours. In Southeast Asia, India has provided a US$100 million line of credit to help strengthen Vietnam’s coastal defence, set up a satellite tracking and imaging centre in Vietnam and has strengthened maritime ties with Myanmar.
India has also voiced its concerns regarding maritime disputes in the South China Sea, an issue the previous government avoided. Modi has underlined the destabilising potential of disputes there through joint statements with the United States and Vietnam at the East Asia Summit and the India–ASEAN Summit both in 2014 and 2015. India even referred to the South China Sea as the ‘West Philippine Sea’, the Philippines’ favoured term, in a joint statement with Manila.