China held the first meeting of its Indian Ocean Region Forum on 21 November.
While all of India's neighbours participated in the meeting, India was not invited, a report in The Hindu said.
Representatives from 19 countries in the Indian Ocean Region — South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, Djibouti, Iran, Oman, Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Australia — participated in the meet.
The forum was organised by China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA), China's new development aid agency. It is currently headed by China's former Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui, who has served as ambassador to India and Pakistan in the past.
The development comes at a time when China is increasing its presence in the Indian Ocean Region. China's massive investments in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) have enabled it to expand its presence in littoral states.
It has created stakes with investments in ports and other infrastructure in the region, from Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan in the west to Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique in the east, and the many islands dotting the vast ocean between. In East Africa, where it also launched its first foreign military base in Djibouti in 2017, China has investments in at least 17 ports, giving it a robust presence in the western Indian Ocean.
Similarly, closer to India, China has invested in infrastructure, including ports in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Myanmar, and has taken over on lease the ones it has built in the first two. It is currently building a base in Cambodia, on the edge of the eastern Indian Ocean.
With the relentless expansion of its presence, China has built considerable political influence and economic leverage in the region. This has shrunk India's space for manoeuvre and intensified the tug of war for influence, visible most recently in Sri Lanka and the Maldives.
The increase in the presence of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in the IOR has kept pace with China's growing investments and influence.
China's upcoming base in Cambodia will enable the PLAN to maintain a greater presence in the eastern Indian Ocean, including India's near-seas — the Bay of Bengal, the only part of the Indian Ocean from where an Indian ballistic missile submarine or SSBN can currently launch a nuclear strike against China, and the adjoining Andaman Sea.
China has consistently deployed survey or research vessels capable of bathymetric studies — mapping the depth of the ocean floors, studying the ocean environment and collecting hydrological data.
The data collected by these research vessels in the Indian Ocean can be used to operate submarines in the region and detect enemy undersea platforms deployed in these waters.
China's new Indian Ocean forum and India's exclusion from it must be looked at in this context, experts have said.
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