Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat on Friday said that more than 120 foreign warships are currently present in the Indian Ocean and suggested that the bid for “strategic places and bases” in the region will intensify in the future, reported the Hindustan Times. He was delivering the keynote address at the Global Dialogue Security Forum.

“At present, there are over 120 warships of extra-regional forces deployed in the Indian Ocean region in support of various missions,” Rawat said. “Till now the region, by and large, has remained peaceful albeit under contestation.”

He then added: “Of late, along with geo-strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific, we are also witnessing a race for strategic places and bases in the Indian Ocean region, which is only going to gain momentum in times to come.”

He cited China’s economy, military rise, and the competition to increase influence in the Indian Ocean region as the reason behind the development, according to ANI.

He further said that governance and security are under threat of being undermined by non-state actors and there is growing naval competition among countries. “To protect peace, prosperity and sovereignty, it is important for us to keep sea lines of communication secure at all times with a strong hold on the security dimension of this region,” Rawat added.

He stressed on the need to build multilateral mechanisms like the Japan-Australia-India and India-ASEAN for striking balance in strategic autonomy.

“In our quest to build a stronger India, we need a peaceful and stable security environment,” the former Army chief said. “We need to maintain strategic autonomy and cooperative relations with extra-regional powers.”