A top U.S. Navy official has proposed a coalition to rival China’s military expansion in the South China Sea. The alliance would comprise the navies of the U.S., India, Japan and Australia.
Adm. Harry B. Harris, the Chief of U.S. Pacific Command, made the proposal Wednesday. A similar coalition fell through in 2007 following Chinese protest.
Although he did not directly refer to China, Harris warned that aggressive countries were aiming to “bully smaller nations through intimidation and coercion.” He suggested an allied naval force would be the best way to meet this aggression.
“Exercising together will lead to operating together,” Harris said. “By being ambitious, India, Japan, Australia and the United States and so many like-minded nations can aspire to operate anywhere in the high seas and the airspace above it.”
China has been raising regional tension by expanding its military and building artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea. Although China claims virtually all of the South China Sea, parts of it are also claimed by Taiwan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei.
The naval proposal is Washington’s latest move in encouraging India’s Navy to collaborate more with the U.S.
The American Ambassador to India Richard V. Verma expressed some hope.
He said joint patrols by the U.S. and Indian navies “will become a common and welcome sight throughout Indo-Pacific waters” in the “not too distant” future.
However, India has not yet expressed interest in joint naval patrols especially in the South China Sea.
“The last thing India wants to do is accidentally make itself into a front-line player in the South China Sea,” said security analyst Nitin A. Gokhale.
Shen Dingli, a professor of international relations at Fudan University in Shanghai, believes India won’t agree to a coalition due to fear of Chinese retaliation.
“China actually has many ways to hurt India,” Dingli said. “China could send an aircraft carrier to the Gwadar port in Pakistan. China had turned down the Pakistan offer to have military stationed in the country. If India forces China to do that, of course we can put a navy at your doorstep.”
Still, India’s navy has been cooperating more with its U.S counterpart under the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Officials say both countries are close to closing a logistics agreement allowing their militaries to use each other’s resources for refueling and repair. The Indian navy has also finalized several bilateral and trilateral agreements with the U.S.