China's actions in the Indian Ocean include a non-adherence to international law, use of "coercive economic tools" to achieve security goals, and a lack of transparency in efforts to establish overseas military bases, a senior US defence official has said.
The US side is engaged in "good discussions" on such concerns with Indian counterparts since American concerns go beyond China's growing naval presence in the Indian Ocean, Ely Ratner, the US assistant secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific security affairs, said.
"What we have concerns about in the Indian Ocean is that we will see and have started to see a pattern of [People's Republic of China] and [People's Liberation Army] behaviour that we have seen throughout other parts of the region that include non-adherence to international law, lack of transparency, including around its efforts to establish military installations overseas, as well as its use of coercive economic tools to achieve security aims," Ratner said.
He was responding to a question on America's concerns about China's increasing presence in the Indian Ocean during a virtual news briefing for a select group of journalists late on Thursday.
A visit by a Chinese research vessel with extensive technical surveillance capabilities to the Chinese-controlled Hambantota port in Sri Lanka in August raised concerns in both India and the US. New Delhi formally conveyed its concerns to Colombo, prompting the Chinese side to say it was "completely unjustified for certain countries" to cite so-called security concerns to pressure Sri Lanka.
Reports have also emerged that China's first overseas military base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa is now fully operational and capable of supporting massive warships.
Ratner said the US concerns relate to "not just China's growing naval presence in the Indian Ocean but how it's going to express that presence and what its intentions are".
He added, "So these are all things that we are concerned about and that we are starting to see elements of in...the Indian Ocean region [and] not just in the maritime domain, and it's one that we have had good discussions with our Indian counterparts on and we will continue to in the future."
Lindsey Ford, the US deputy assistant secretary of defence for South and Southeast Asia, told the briefing that the US and its partners in groupings such as the Quad are engaged in a "tremendous amount" of practical coordination on matters such as maritime security, technology and disaster relief.
This "demonstrates how much we are leaning into the idea of working together with like-minded partners, India and others, and I think that extends into the defence space too", she said.