The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has become a key theatre for rivalry between India and China, with the South Asian powerhouse planning to bolster maritime ties with Tanzania.

Indian Naval Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba has assured his Tanzanian counterpart Rear Admiral R S Laswai that the Indian Navy would work together with the Tanzanian Navy to ensure safe navigation in the Indian Ocean. Rear Admiral Laswai, who visited India earlier this week, discussed various ways to bolster bilateral naval ties with Admiral Lanba in New Delhi.

Later, the Indian Navy chief informed the media that the naval forces of the two countries decided to concentrate on capacity building in the coming days. He said that the Indian Navy would assist the Tanzanian Navy in training as a part of its initiative to take the relationship forward. For his part, Rear Admiral Laswai stressed that the two Navies were facing common challenges within the Indian Ocean Rim. “Since we have common challenges, we need to chart common policy, co-operation and strategy for one vision and one destiny,” he added.

The visiting Navy chief also held a separate meeting with Indian Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar to discuss different aspects of bilateral naval co-operation. During their meeting, Rear Admiral Laswai said that maritime relations between the two countries received a big boost during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tanzanian capital of Dodoma in July.

Before concluding his trip to India, the Tanzanian Navy chief visited headquarters of Goa Shipyard Limited and Naval Institute of Hydrography in the western Indian province of Goa, headquarters of Southern Naval Command in Kochi and Indian Naval Academy in Ezhimala.

Since becoming prime minister in May 2014, Modi has tried his best to bolster ties with South Asian, West Asian and African countries in an attempt to regain India’s foothold in the IOR. Earlier this week, India signed Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) with the US that would allow the two countries to use each other’s land, air and naval bases for military purposes. New Delhi believes that the agreement will give India an outreach to areas (many of them are geographically located in the IOR) that were not typically in its reach.

Under Modi’s leadership, India has made a major shift in its foreign policy. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, believed that it was better for India to remain non-aligned in a bipolar world. He also believed that India could find its own way in the international system without adhering to either the US- or (former) USSR-led camps. Indira Gandhi, Nehru’s daughter and the only female PM of India, had urged all the major powers to withdraw from the Indian Ocean, as she (too) followed her father’s concepts of non-alignment.

However, India started concentrating on the IOR in the late 1990s when China strengthened ties with some countries that lined the Indian Ocean in order to spread its influence in the region. China’s move prompted India to develop its own maritime defences and to make counter-moves for establishing its authority over the Indian Ocean that bears its name, but not its stamp.

In 2014, Prime Minister Modi made clear that he would make full use of India’s geographic location to counter China’s growing influence in the IOR. Although China and Pakistan have advised the Indian PM not to adopt “aggressive” policy, New Delhi has argued that its main aim is to ensure maritime safety and a steady economic growth. By striking agreements with other geographically strategic countries in the IOR in recent times, Modi has created a more-or-less balanced situation in the region. Although India’s moves disrupt China’s energy imports in the IOR, they allow India to enjoy the same advantages obtained by China. It is also evident from India’s foreign policy shift that the country is trying hard to establish its own “string of pearls” in the IOR.

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]