India, Myanmar hold joint naval drill as New Delhi cements leadership role

FILE PHOTO: An Indian Navy personnel stands guard against a 'Mumbai' board at Gateway of India | Photo: PTI
Highlighting the Indian Navy’s cooperative relations with its regional counterparts, two warships from the Myanmar navy arrived in Port Blair on Monday for the 8th Indo-Myanmar Coordinated Patrol. 

Over the next four days, these vessels will patrol the 725-kilometres India-Myanmar maritime boundary alongside an Indian warship, INS Saryu and maritime patrol aircraft from both navies.

During this so-called “coordinated patrol” (CORPAT), neither country’s warships will cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) into the other’s waters. But they will co-operate “to address issues of terrorism, illegal fishing, drug trafficking, human trafficking, poaching and other illegal activities inimical to [the] interest of both nations,” stated the defence ministry on Tuesday.

The Indian Navy began CORPATs with Myanmar in Mar 2013 as a tool of naval diplomacy and to assert India’s assumed role as a “net security provider” in the Indian Ocean. 

India currently carries out CORPATs with four regional navies: Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand and, most recently, Bangladesh.

The 33rd IND-INDO CORPAT, in partnership with Indonesia, was conducted in March-April; and the 27th Indo-Thailand CORPAT was held in January.

The first CORPAT with Bangladesh was held last June, after naval relations with Dhaka flowered with the settlement of their long-standing maritime boundary dispute. In 2014, an arbitration tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ruled in favour of Bangladesh, awarding it 19,467 square kilometres of the 25,602 square kilometres in dispute. New Delhi quietly implemented the award, underlining its credentials as a responsible maritime power that respected the rule of law.

India’s acceptance of the UNCLOS arbitration award contrasts starkly with China, which has rejected similar arbitration, citing “historical” claims. China currently rides roughshod over the maritime and territorial claims of South China Sea and East China Sea countries – including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

In this context, CORPAT slots neatly into New Delhi’s overarching policy rubric of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and its “Look East” and “Act East” policies. With this backdrop, the navy conducts diplomacy through joint naval exercises (one with Singapore is currently ongoing), port visits and discussion forums like the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), which currently has 35 member states, mostly from the Indian Ocean littoral.

The Indian Navy has also offered regional states the opportunity to enhance their “maritime domain awareness” by joining the Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean region (IFC-IOR). Thi is a high-tech, master control centre, set up in Gurgaon earlier this year, which monitors the busy shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean using a range of space-based and terrestrial sensors.

IFC-IOR is an diplomatic initiative that underlines India’s status as the guardian of the Indian Ocean – bringing together regional countries to safeguard global commons, such as freedom of navigation and provide security against challenges such as piracy, terrorism, gun-running, narcotics, human migration and illegal fishing.

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