NEW DELHI — Ever since Bangladesh took delivery of Chinese submarines on Nov. 14, analysts in India have expressed increasing concern over a deepening of China's footprint in India's friendly neighbor.
The arrival of the submarines comes as Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar prepares to visit Dhaka on Nov. 30 to upgrade defense ties between the neighboring countries.
Bangladesh took delivery of the first of the two submarines purchased from China at a cost of $203 million. The Type 035G diesel-electric submarines, armed with torpedoes and mines, are capable of attacking enemy ships and submarines.
Analysts say the sale of the subs is part of a strategy meant to encircle India.
"Given Bangladesh's economic situation and the fact that it is surrounded on three sides by India, the acquisition of submarines is not only illogical but actually an act of provocation as far as India is
concerned. Submarines are offensive weapons of sea denial and their only use would be to pose a threat in being for India and to complicate the latter's maritime security paradigm," said Arun Prakash, a retired Indian Navy admiral and former service chief.
"Obviously this transfer is a step further in China's strategy of encircling India with its client states," Prakash added.
However, Bharat Karnad, a research professor at the India-based think tank Centre for Policy Research, disagreed.
"No, it is just a good, economical deal Dhaka could not pass up," Karnad said. "But the Modi government will have to ensure it does not fetch Beijing strategic benefits."
"It is difficult to fathom why Bangladesh, which does not encounter any conventional maritime-military threat, has inducted submarines in its navy. The maritime disputes between Bangladesh and two of its only maritime neighbors — Myanmar and India — were resolved through international arbitration in 2012 and 2014, respectively," said Gurpreet Khurana, an Indian Navy captain and executive director of the National Maritime Foundation.
Swaran Singh, a professor for diplomacy and disarmament at Jawaharlal Nehru University in India, said: "Bangladesh Navy has always been [the] beneficiary of Chinese transfers, but [the] transfer of submarine means major upgradation of their defense cooperation and would contribute to South Asia becoming a far more contested space infested with new weapon systems."
During Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Bangladesh in October 2016, Bangladesh and China agreed to elevate their relationship from a " comprehensive partnership of cooperation" to a " strategic partnership," which "raises concern here," said an Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) official.
Diplomats of the Bangladesh High Commission here were unavailable for comment.
China has emerged as a major supplier of arms for the Bangladesh Army but also a destination for its officers to receive training.
Bangladesh is modernizing it armed forces and procuring weapons from overseas. "The delivery of the first Chinese submarine will make the country (Bangladesh) dependent for more arms from China," a senior Indian Army official said.
India is also boosting its defense ties. Parrikar, during his two-day visit to Bangladesh next week, is likely to "upgrade its bilateral defense cooperation," the MoD official said. India is contemplating supplying offshore patrol vehicles with an easy financial package to Bangladesh as part of the defense cooperation, the official added.
"Bangladesh is our neighbor, and its strategic importance cannot be understated in any way. Such events as the purchase of submarines by Bangladesh greatly enhances the mistrust between the countries and
steps must be taken to reduce this gap and prevent Bangladesh from playing the China card repeatedly," said Probal Ghosh, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, an organization dedicated to leading political and policy discussions in India.
Though India and Bangladesh have very cordial relations under the ruling dispensation in Dhaka, the two countries have yet to settle on a water-sharing treaty, which has proven to be a major irritant in Indo-Bangladesh ties.