GEOPOLITICS IS ALL ABOUT LEVERAGE,
TO BE SAFER ABROAD YOU NEED TO BE SAFE AT HOME
THOMAS L FRIEDMAN
- ‘String of Pearls’ refers to a geopolitical theory relating to the network of Chinese intentions in India Ocean Region (IOR). Precisely, it refers to the network of Chinese military and commercial facilities developed by China in countries falling on the Indian Ocean between the Chinese mainland and Port Sudan. The ‘String of Pearls’ hypothesis was first espoused by a consulting firm of the United States of America in 2005 which evinced an expansion in China’s civilian maritime commercial facilities along the Indian Ocean.
- This theory stemmed from China’s perceived vulnerabilities of its energy security which relies heavily on foreign energy sources. This reliance on foreign energy sources will become more acute with the rapid economic development of China and hence the need to insulate this energy source and it’s supply routes from external turbulences.
CHINESE ENERGY SECURITY IMPERATIVES
- China is making rapid growth in infrastructure and technology. To meet this rapid growth burgeoning oil requirement is axiomatic. China is heavily dependent on imports to meet this challenge. The main sources of oil imports are from the Gulf Countries and Africa which accounts for 70 % of its consumption. In an attempt to build in redundancy against operational hurdles, China has negotiated long term contracts with Iran for development of its oil fields and with SUDAN for projects involving laying pipelines and building refineries and ports.
- Sea lines of communication will continue to be the predominant mode for oil transportation in the foreseeable future. Alternative modes of transportation have not been found feasible given the degree of political instability, poor infrastructure, logistical challenges, and corruption in Central Asia. The Chinese strategy is evidently focusing on protecting all those sea lines which impacts its oil imports. In an attempt to give shape to this strategy China raised and built several commercial and military facilities along these sea-lines which are now referred to as STRING OF PEARLS. The sheer dispositions of these PEARLS encircle India and can be perceived as an added dimension to Chinese intents to thwart India’s growing influence in the ASIAN SUBCONTINENT and the GLOBAL ARENA.
- In the context of geopolitics STRING OF PEARLS encompasses the STRAIT OF MALACCA, SRILANKA, MALDIVES, PAKISTAN, STRAIT OF HORMUZ & SOMALIA.
STRAIT OF MALACCA
- Connects Indian Ocean with Pacific Ocean with Malaysia and Singapore on one side while Indonesia on the other side.
- 80% of China’s fuel supply from the Middle East is shipped through the Strait of Malacca. Hence the need to retain a foothold on this important sea-line.
- China recognizes India’s dominance over the Indian Ocean.
- China has reportedly developed a naval base near The Strait of Malacca on Cocos Keeling Island, which is a distant part of Australia.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
- It is the key strategic region for China and a potential trouble spot.
- The Chinese government began aggressively asserting its territorial claims in the region over the last two decades.
- Historically the interest in the region extends to the rich fishing and mineral resources known to exist there. However, islets in the regions can also be used as air and sea bases for intelligence and surveillance.
- The naval base on Hainan Island is considered the first of the pearls or potential pearls.
- A Chinese proposal to fund the construction of a canal across the Kra Isthmus, has also been reported. This canal would allow ships to bypass the Strait of Malacca linking Chinese ports and facilities in the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean.
MYNMAR & BANGLADESH
- China has built a gas pipeline of about 2,400 km from Myanmar to China.
- A military base in Coco Island of Myanmar has also been reported.
- The port at Chittagong in Bangladesh has been developed to give China a foothold the Bay of Bengal. Significant part of Chinese trade passes through this port.
- China is reportedly negotiating with Bangladesh to develop a naval base at Chittagong.
- The port at Hambantota on the South Eastern part of Sri Lanka has been developed by China.
- A Chinese company built the port and gained control to manage it.
- The fall of the Rajapakshe government in January 2015 elections has impeded Chinese efforts.
- Gwadar port was part of the originally conceived as the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. India pulled out of this project citing security concerns.
- The project is now called Iran-Pakistan-China pipeline and Gwadar is an integral part of this project.
- CPEC and the Iran-Pakistan-China pipeline project enables China strengthening its military presence in the region including around the Strait of Hormuz which is also vital to India’s Trade.
- India recognizes the Chinese STRING OF PEARLS as a potential Threat and has vigorously adapted the LOOK EAST POLICY as ACT EAST POLICY. India is now engaging with its SAARC neighbours by interaction and extending economic support.
- The Chinese encirclement posture is being countered by Indian engagement with countries surrounding China. India shares good relations with its old allies and friends like Japan, Russia and South Korea.
- The STRING OF PEARLS is an evolving and dynamic situation and will continue to be a frontrunner in shaping India’s foreign Policy Response in the neighbourhood. The quite outreach by India to all its neighbours has largely gone unnoticed by the global community.