Geo-Politics In Arabian sea, Indian and Pacific Oceans: Competition and Cooperation
What is the importance of the Indian Ocean?
- The Indian Ocean covers at least one fifth of the world’s total ocean area
- Is bounded by Africa and the Arabian Peninsula (known as the western Indian Ocean), India’s coastal waters (the central Indian Ocean), and the Bay of Bengal near Myanmar and Indonesia (the eastern Indian Ocean).
- It provides critical sea trade routes that connect the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia with the broader Asian continent to the east and Europe to the west.
- A number of the world’s most important strategic chokepoints, including the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca through which 32.2 millions of barrels of crude oil and petroleum are transported per day—more than 50 percent of the world’s maritime oil trade—are found in the Indian Ocean Region, which itself is believed to be rich with energy reserves.
- Nearly 40 percent (PDF)of the world’s offshore petroleum is produced in the Indian Ocean, coastal beach sands and offshore waters host heavy mineral deposits, and fisheries are increasingly important for both exports and domestic consumption.
Why is the Indian Ocean a source of competition?
- China and India are dependent on energy resources transported via the secure sea lanes in the Indian Ocean to fuel their economies.
- India imports nearly 80 percent of its energy, mostly oil from the Middle East, and is due to overtake Japan as the world’s third largest energy consumer (behind China and the United States).
- According to a U.S. Department of Defense report, 84 percent (PDF)of China’s imported energy resources passed through Strait of Malacca from the Indian Ocean in 2012.
- As Beijing and New Delhi press to maintain economic growth, their dependency on the safe transport of resources will likely intensify. China’s growing global influence and India’s rapid economic rise have heightened the ocean’s strategic value.
- Meanwhile, the United States’rebalance to Asia—shifting from a foreign policy dominated by the Middle East to one more centered on Asia—has also been a contributing factor elevating concern over Indian Ocean security. Diverse security challenges affect the region ranging from natural disasters to concerns over energy security, piracy, and military posturing.
How are China and India competing in the Indian Ocean?
- Both countries have developed initiatives to bolster infrastructure and other connections in the region, which the World Bank describes as among the “least economically integrated.” Competition between Beijing and New Delhi is not necessarily overt, but each country is seeking to strengthen ties with smaller regional states to secure their respective security and economic interests.
- Beijing’s regional vision, backed by $40 billionof pledged investment, outlines its One Belt, One Road plan—combining the revitalization of ancient land-based trade routes, the Silk Road Economic Belt, with a Maritime Silk Road. China’s ties with regional states have deepened, including the influx of Chinese capital into construction projects in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Since launching counterpiracy operations in 2009, Beijing has become increasingly active in the region.
- China has also undertaken efforts to modernize its military, particularly its naval deployment capabilities to protect overseas interests like personnel, property, and investments. Experts also argue that Beijing’s forays into what is at times described as India’s neighborhood are driven by China’s excess capacity challenges—incentivizing Chinese firms out of domestic markets to compete in and open new markets abroad.
- For its part, India sees itself as the natural preeminent regional power. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has doubled-downon fostering stronger diplomatic, economic, and security ties with maritime states as a means to strengthen India’s economy, establish its role a driver of regional growth , and simultaneously diminish China’s growing appeal.
- “It is India’s neighborhood that holds the keyto its emergence as a regional and global power”. Though Beijing deflects claims of hegemonic aspirations, it identifies security in the IOR (Indian Ocean Rim) as a primary concern for Chinese “core interests.” In 2015, a white paper charting China’s military strategy indicated a shift of People’s Liberation Army Navy to focus on both offshore water defense and open seas protection. Chinese behavior suggests that Beijing seeks to establish a persistent regional maritime presence. It now boasts a semi-permanent naval presence through its counterpiracy activities in the Indian Ocean and has more aggressively asserted itself in the Pacific with extensive patrols and land reclamation projects in disputed waters.
- China’s ambitions in the region have been described by many scholars by the “string of pearls” metaphor, which holds that China is taking on economic and investment projects with Indian Ocean states to secure ports or places where its military forces could set up naval facilities or at the very least, refueling and repair stations. Chinese experts dismiss this, claiming that China seeks access, not bases, for economic gain.As rising powers, China and India’s pursuit of partnerships with smaller regional states is inevitable.
- Still, “maritime competition between China and India is still nascent and should not be overblown. “tit-for-tat politico-military escalation” is possible in the larger Indo-Pacific, a region spanning both the Indian and Pacific oceans.
What fuels China-India tensions?
- China-India relations are fraught, colored by historical disputes and the perceived threat to India of China’s rise. Tensions have persisted despite overtures by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Much of the friction stems from alongstanding disputealong a 2,400-mile border in India’s Arunachal Pradesh and China’s Tibet and the legacy of the 1962 Sino-Indian War along the Himalayan border.
- The expansion of a Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean has heightened India’s concerns. Beijing says its activities are commercially motivated and intended to better protect its interests and people abroad. However some think that ramped up Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean and elsewhere is consistent with Xi Jinping’s intention of making maritime power central to achieving Chinese dominancein Asia.
- While China’s aims are disputed, both sides continue to ramp up military capabilities in the ocean region. China continues to deploy greater numbers of naval forces to support counterpiracy operations in the western Indian Ocean, and invests and sells arms,includingtanks, frigates, missiles, and radar, to India’s neighbors.
- Beijing is currently restructuring its military: Xi Jinping announced in September 2015 that the People’s Liberation Army would cut 300,000 of its troops to redistribute resources to sea and air capabilities. As China adapts its military force to meet its global ambitions, its posturing has grown bolder.
- In October 2015, China finalized the sale of eight submarinesto Pakistan, and in recent years, Chinese submarines have docked at the Sri Lankan port of Colombo and the Pakistani port of Karachi.
- More still, Beijing’s land reclamation efforts and assertive behavior in the Pacific could bleedinto the region
- India is also reinforcing its regional maritime presence. “Activating partnerships and expanding capabilities in the Indian Ocean has beencentral to her quest for security.
- The country has vowed to spend billions to build up its navy, including anti-submarine capabilities, has sent vessels to visit the South China Sea, and called for freedom of navigation and the peaceful resolution of territorial disputes as part of its Act East policy.
- The construction of military bases, modernized equipment and fleets, new maritime assets, and the expansion of security tiesare all part of New Delhi’s push to assert itself as the region’s leader. Modi initiated the first bilateral India-Australia exercises and India participated in multilateral naval games in the Bay of Bengal with the United States, Australia, and Japan.
- David Brewster of Australian National University says there is little doubt that despite India’s traditional principle of nonalignment, outreach to the United States, Australia, and Japan are calculated moves that could play a significant role in counterbalancing China.
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