In what may be seen as an attempt to put China under tremendous pressure, India and the US have decided to strengthen maritime co-operation.

Senior American officials have assured Indian Minister of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari that Washington will help the South Asian country develop its ports under the “Sagarmala” project. The Sagarmala project is a strategic and customer-oriented initiative of the Indian government to modernise ports so that port-led development can be augmented and coastlines can be developed to contribute in the country’s growth. India plans to invest USD 50-60 billion in developing 150 ports and another USD 100 billion in related industrial development.

After holding talks with representatives of the Harbour Department of the City of Long Beach in California earlier this week, Gadkari said that the American company agreed to build and develop new ports, apart from constructing new terminals in exiting ports and creating a coastal economic zone. According to the visiting Indian minister, the Harbour Department will also help India in dredging, ship building, ship repairing, ship recycling, and developing inland waterways in the coming months.

Speaking at a press conference in California a couple of days ago, Gadkari stressed that the Indian maritime sector was facing problems mainly because of old port facilities which lack competitive advantage. He told the media that it has become important for India to strengthen its maritime sector with the US’ help. During his recent week-long tour to the US, the minister witnessed the latest techniques in road engineering, highway construction, road signage and effective measures to enhance road safety.

Meanwhile, Indian political analysts are of the opinion that India-US maritime co-operation will anger China, which has already expressed concern over US Navy’s growing activities in Asian waters. Currently, the two Asian neighbours are on a collision course. The world’s two largest populations and fastest growing economies are competing against each other to become the great Asian power. China’s recent move to block India’s NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) membership bid has triggered a fresh tension between the two countries. Further competition and (perhaps) confrontation between New Delhi and Beijing are on the cards, as India is gearing up to counter China’s aspiration to remain the sole Asian power stretching from Siberia to the Arabian Sea.

The rivalry between the two Asian nations may become a more dynamic and dangerous competition in the Indian Ocean. With China trying hard to protect its supply chain running from Africa and the Middle East through the Indian Ocean, India has stepped up investment in maritime awareness and antisubmarine capabilities, leaning heavily on US expertise and support. In the current global geopolitical landscape, the US, Australia and Japan are India’s most important strategic partners who can help the country fulfil its dream to lead the way into a new Asian century.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]