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China’s “Strings of pearls” threat to India’s strategic hold in Indian Ocean Region.

By Rabin Prasad Kalita  

It becomes obvious that, under the banner of One Belt One Region (OBOR) China is developing land and maritime trade routes but one must not be oblivious to the fact that they always carry a military ambition at the back of their minds. India has already been looped by Chinese military and commercial facilities and also as per the piecemeal reports, Pakistan’s soil has been used for establishing Chinese military and naval base which would become a possible last slot in the chain of pearls encircling India. It would be worth mentioning here that similar military as well as commercial facilities also have been developed by China to encircle Japan and other American allies. Since our concern is India, our prime motto is to discuss Chinese presence in Indian Ocean Region only which might cost us heavily if any conflict should arise with China. Our concern is about the much talked Chinese doctrine of “String of Pearls” around India. China is also trying to foothold her presence establishing maritime as well as military bases covering both land and maritime footprints of India in the region.  ‘String of Pearls’ refers to a geopolitical network theory of Chinese crooked intentions in Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Rather, it precisely refers to the network of Chinese military and commercial facilities developed around countries falling on the Indian Ocean. 

Nearly 80 per cent of China’s oil imports from the oil fields of the Middle East pass through the Straits of Malacca. Hence, Straits of Malacca is indispensible for China until it develops an alternative route. India has a good amount of strategic hold on Malacca straits because of Andaman and Nicobar Islands’ easily accessible vicinity. Therefore, China is very keen to improve relations with countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia which surrounded the Malacca Straits. Moreover to check India’s movement China is said to have developed a naval base on Cocos Keeling Archipelago, which is an Australian External Territory in the Indian Ocean.

Likewise in Kyaukpyu Port situated in the Bay of Bengal, Woody Island in the Paracel archipelago, Port in the Spratly Islands, Sihanoukville of Cambodia, Istmo de kra of Thailand, port of Chittagong in Bangladesh, Hambantota Port in Shri Lanka, Marao port of Maldives and the Gawdar port in in the south-west of Pakistan’s Baluchistan province are the encircling ports developed by China as their commercial and strategic military deployment base in last few years.

Moreover, China is heavily dependent upon the sea routes that pass through the South China Sea near the disputed Spratly and Paracel islands where they have made their positions strong enough to thwart any untoward happenings. These islands are currently a source of tension amongst China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines and the United States. Even the proposed Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor (BCIM) has also been susceptible to India’s advances against China in the event of any scuffle, thereby, limiting the viability of BCIM corridor, China is putting more efforts and interest in CPEC for her energy security.  Moreover,it cannot be made null and void China’s weaknesses in regards to the India’s increased maritime surveillance in this area, which has shaken her.   Hence, to by-pass these hostile and combative areas, the CPEC project will definitely add a new vein as an alternative route for them which would also decrease any possible confrontation. This alternative route would definitely reduce the shipping cost and transit time to half of the currently available circuitous sea route which is roughly 12,000 kilometers long. This new route from Gwadar to Kashgar (Xinjiang province, west part of China) would be approximately 3000 kilometres and another 3500 kilometers from Xinxing to the eastern part of China. Crude oil is expected to be refined at the Gawdar port and then sent to China via ongoing land pipeline (Gwadar- Kashgar project under CPEC). This route under CPEC will also enable them easy access for doing business with Middle East, Africa and Europe with much shorter time and distance. No doubt, it is a well-managed gambitof China by making Pakistan a string-puppet for her sole interest.

China is trying to outplay and exert its control over India in Indian Ocean Region with her significant string theory where India has ever dominated. That is why China is trying to turn ports into naval bases in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Maldives where she can house combat aircrafts and other hardware by hook or by crook. A well-orchestrated plan by China to block India’s growing Maritime interests is the need of the hour. China is trying to help those poor countries with a number credit line scheme to have control over those poor island nations in Indian Ocean, so that, they change their mood  and sing in favour of China.

After having made so much infrastructures in those countries encircling India, China hasn’t limited herself, but it has also made its presence felt on the African coast and the Middle East. She is said to have a commanding presence with powerful military base on the African coast i.e., in Sudan and Kenya.

There are a lot of things that India can learn from China’s foreign policy maneuvering strategies. So, better late than never, India’s doctrine of ‘Look East Policy’ (LEP) now renamed by Prime Minister Modi as “Act East Policy”(AEP) will surely prove to be the answer to the Chinese ‘String of Pearls’. The sluggish LEP got a boost in recent years after focusing on promoting connectivity with ASEAN states including security, strategic relations, counter-terrorism, trade and commercial relations, defense collaboration and also rejuvenating ties with the neighbouring countries to a greater extent.

India has a lot of scope for better trade and economic opportunities provided she seeks greater involvement in this region. The desire to fulfill her ambition to upgrade her age old relations with those countries is possible only through the dynamic and judicious implementation of the “Act East Policy”.

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