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NZ Navy chief on Chinese foray in Indian Ocean

NEW DELHI (PTI): Sharing India's doubts over Chinese claims that forays by its submarines and ships in Indian Ocean were purely part for anti-piracy operations, the New Zealand Navy Chief on Wednesday said China could be "trying to make sure" that they can indeed go beyond its waters.

Rear Admiral Jack Raymond Steer, Chief of New Zealand Navy, also welcomed US' rebalancing of its naval assets to Asia-Pacific region.

"The Chinese will always say one thing and other people will have a different view. The fact that China has been contributing for many years to anti-piracy group is a good thing because more nations contribute, the better it is," Steer said.

Talking about the Chinese deployment of "submarines and other ships" into Indian Ocean, he told PTI in an interview that "one view could be that China is trying to teach themselves, trying to make sure that they can actually do this because for a long time, they have not gone very far away from mainland China. What is the actual underline thinking, I don't know".

Interestingly, China's recent assertive white paper on defence talks about enhancing its naval reach for the first time to "open seas protection" far from its shores.

Asked about China's ongoing dispute in South China Sea with other countries in the region, the New Zealand Navy chief said his country does not take a position on who is right and wrong.

"What we do want and recommend is that the nations involved find a resolution that is transparent, peaceful and in accordance to international law," he said underlining that he was not taking anybody's side.

"From our perspective, there is lot of trade, relationship around South China Sea and Indian Ocean," he said.

India remains wary of China's military intentions, protesting two visits last year by Chinese submarines to Colombo. China claims its deployment is part of anti-piracy operations.

The Defence Ministry annual report for 2014-15, released earlier this year, had sounded an alarm over increasing Chinese activities in the Indian Ocean region even as it called for peaceful resolution to territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

It said that India remains conscious and watchful of the implications of Beijing's "increasing military profile in our immediate and extended neighbourhood, as well as the development of strategic infrastructure by China in border areas".

The Defence Ministry had said India is also taking necessary measures to develop the requisite capabilities to counter any adverse impact on own security.

Last month, Navy Chief Admiral R K Dhowan had said his force "minutely" monitors Chinese activities in the Indian Ocean Rim.

Meanwhile, while describing the scope of the India and New Zealand maritime relations, Steer said that both countries have a "very similar maritime security issues in our respective oceans and across the Indo-Pacific trade routes. We have a great deal to share in support of each other's security concerns".

He stressed on the need to have deeper and formal ties between the two navies rather than the "ad hoc" interaction now.

Steer is in New Delhi on a working visit during which he will have several high-level exchanges with the Indian Navy, including with his counterpart Admiral R K Dhowan.

He will travel to Cochin later in the day to welcome the New Zealand ship Te Kaha that is on its way back to New Zealand after taking part in the ANZAC Day Centenary commemorations on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey and contributing to counter-terrorism, anti-piracy and anti-narcotics operations in the western Indian Ocean.

While on duty in this region, Te Kaha dealt drug smugglers a blow, seizing almost 260 kilograms of heroin several hundred crore.

When in Kochi, Steer will be accorded a guard of honour by the Indian Navy at the headquarters of the Southern Naval Command. He will later call on Vice Admiral Sunil Lanba, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Southern Naval Command.

The New Zealand Chief of Navy will also host a reception on board the ship on Friday evening.


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