NEW DELHI: An Indian Navy cadet today set sail onboard a Chinese warship named after a 15th century eunuch admiral on a voyage to mark the anniversary of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
Cadet David Veeravalli’s voyage typifies a military relationship withChinathat is marked by baby steps towards confidence-building and wariness aboutBeijing’s great power status.
This is a first for the two navies in modern history. In the last 60 years, the Indian and Chinese navies have maintained only formal contact restricted to port calls. Exactly 50 years ago, the Chinese PLA humiliated the Indian Army in war.
That tradition was broken today even as defence minister A.K. Antony was asked questions by worried members in Parliament over Chinese military helicopters flying over Himachal.
Cadet David Veeravalli embarked the Admiral Zheng He training ship at Port Kelang inMalaysiathat is on a round-the-world voyage to mark the 63rd anniversary of the founding of the PLAN.
David is a cadet with the Indian Navy’s training squadron No.1 based inKochi. He is now in the sailing phase of his course and attached to the Indian Navy’s own training ship, the INS Tir, before he is commissioned as an officer.
Like the Ming dynasty admiral the Chinese ship is named after, the PLAN has set out to mark its presence across the globe. The voyage will mark history — the circumnavigation will also reflect a global influence — by retracing the travels of Zheng He who explored the Indian Ocean (called the “WestOcean” by the Chinese) seven times between 1405 and 1433.
On almost each of those voyages, Zheng He’s fleet touchedKochiorKozhikodein Kerala or both. By some unverified accounts,Kochi’s celebrated tourism hotspot — the Chinese fishing nets — originated from the interaction with the Chinese commanded by the admiral.
David is on board the ship along with 110 Chinese cadets, including 13 girls, from PLAN’sDalianNavalAcademyand a rear admiral who is the commanding officer. David will disembark at Kochi — likely on May 9 — not far from the coast of Kozhikode (referred to as Calicut by Europeans) where historians believe Zheng He was given a sea burial 579 years ago.
This is the second time in 10 years that a PLAN ship is circumnavigating the globe. The Admiral Zheng He is scheduled to leaveKochion May 13 after the stopover.