By Nitum Jain:
The Dragon and the Tiger have always been circling each other for years, sniffing, strategizing, waiting for the other to make a mistake, preparing to bare claws and leap. China has taken the step and made the encircling literal.
The two Asian titans have never seen eye to eye despite their very many similarities; they both happen to be the most populous countries in the world, both countries have their cultural foundations much deep-rooted and old, they have both suffered colonialism and had even won their freedom within years of each other, and today both India and China are economies that are expanding rapidly despite the global meltdown. Yet noting the recent developments, peace is a far-fetched thought between them.
During the cold war, the Department of Defense of the United States of America had devised a plan to surround Soviet Russia by creating a ring of allies around the country with the use of international treaties like NATO and SEATO. China has taken a leaf out of their book and has built ports around India and is connecting roads to circumvent India’s growing sea power.
Christopher J. Pehrson authored a book, ‘String of Pearls: Meeting the challenge of China’s rising power across the Asian littoral’ on this latest Chinese maneuver. The String of Pearls is described here as the “manifestation of China’s rising geopolitical influence through efforts to increase access to ports and airfields, develop special diplomatic relationships and modernize military forces that extend from the South China Sea through the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and on to the Arabian Gulf.”
Simply put, China’s strategy is setting up ports in India’s neighbouring countries and thus controlling vital sea-lanes of communication between the Indian and Pacific Oceans by creating this circuit of listening posts, special naval arrangements and total access to all ports.
It is belligerently pursuing its goal of muscling into the waters of the Indian Ocean, which India has always considered its own, and become closer to its ultimate aim of becoming the super power of the 21st century. The Chinese started by building ports in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar; and also have shown interest in developing naval and commercial links with the Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius and Madagascar.
Such an action definitely raises the prospect of confrontation between the nations someday as the region that China is so hell-bent on monopolizing is too important for the Gulf States as a trading route for oil (another plus for China as their venture is lucrative as well). Not only India, this may also bring China at loggerheads with the USA who have long held sway over the waters. Yet the country is gung-ho about it’s pearls, without a care of the West.
India shares its borders with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Nepal besides China and though China maintains that it is building its ports and the pipelines to protect its oil from piracy and strengthen its trade, the ports themselves are resent a very conspicuous picture as they were built one after the other in almost ALL of India’s main neighbours. Taking a look at how eagerly China acquired all the locations where they were built, it is hard not to discern the very obvious pattern: the infamous String of Pearls.
MYANMAR/ BURMA- Sittwe Port
Myanmar lies to the east of India and southwest to China. To the Dragon it is strategically important as a ‘landridge’ since the Chinese heads plan to use it for the long-term motive to reach the Indian Ocean via the Coco Island which belong to Myanmar and are approximately 30 kilometres away from India’s Andaman Islands. China is expected to achieve world-class blue water Navy status by the year 2050.
In lieu of Myanmar’s compliance, China supplied Myanmar with arms (jet fighters, tanks, naval ships, etc.), agreed to train its air force, military and army
Personnel and also readily provided Myanmar with economic aid and investments for construction of basic infrastructure, such as dams, bridges, roads and ports as well as for industrial projects.
BANGLADESH- Chittagong Port
Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina had structured a slew of agreements with India in January this year, among the many was an important one where India had offered to extend a $1 billion credit to Bangladesh for 14 infrastructural projects. Lapse by the Indian government, where the Finance Minister took eight months to come down to Bangladesh and operationalise the project, and the new changes made in the offer where the interest rates climbed from 1% to 1.75%, shocked Dhaka. So it was taken that unless India relaxes its trade barriers to Bangladeshi output, it will be accused of manipulating the transit rights for its own benefit.
Meanwhile, China conveniently moved into the delay gap on projects like the Chittagong Port, refurbishing it mostly out of its own pocket and also aided in the construction of the second Padma Bridge. It is pushing several Memorandums of Understanding on road links via Myanmar and railway links connecting the capitals of both nations (Beijing and Dhaka). All this it presents as a $2.2 billion package on Infrastructure, apparently out of good faith.
PAKISTAN- Gwadar Port
Pakistan identified Gwadar as a port site as early as in 1964. However it took 37 years to make it a reality and that was also done only when China offered to help in the construction and development of this deep-sea port.
This particular port is perhaps of the most importance to China and the most dangerous to India, not only does it provides China with a very prosperous oil trade but is also a “listening post” where it can “monitor US naval activity in the Persian Gulf, Indian activity in the Arabian Sea and future US-Indian maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean”. A recent report by defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton for the Pentagon notes that China has already installed electronic eavesdropping posts at the Pakistani port, which are monitoring maritime traffic through the Strait of Hormuz and the Arabian Sea.
SRI LANKA- Hambantota Port
Hambantota Port is being built on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, in an area that is merely ten miles from one of the world’s busiest shipping routes. Costing a whopping $1 billion, this port is to be used as a refueling and docking station for China’s Navy as it patrols the Indian Ocean and protects China’s supplies of Saudi oil. Sri Lanka had consented to this plan in March 2007 and thereon it has been supplied with all the aid, arms and diplomatic support it needs to defeat the LTTE problem within its borders.
These include a transaction of huge quantities of weapons to Colombo last year and boosting financial aid almost five times to $1 billion. China soon took the role of the top donor to this island country with its Jian-7 fighter jets, anti-aircraft guns and JY-11 3D air surveillance radars. It came to Colombo’s rescue when the US cut direct help to Sri Lanka because of its dismal human rights record. It all boils down to the fact that the Chinese are courting Sri Lanka because of its location in the Indian Ocean — with the additional bonus of a vital international passageway for trade and oil.
NEPAL and BHUTAN
Both the countries, though the smallest neighbours, haven’t yet taken sides or succumbed to persuasion.
In Nepal, both India and China have been trying to woo the country to their sides; India announced a plan early this year to spend $361 million over the next several years to develop roads and rail links in the region while China too came up with a strategy to lure Nepal by increasing its annual aid by 50% to about $22 million.
While in Bhutan, over the past six months the Chinese have increasingly made inroads in the strategically important area which precariously close to India’s “chicken’s neck” – the vulnerable Siliguri Corridor which links the main part of India to its farthest north-eastern states. Such incursions have caused much alarm to India and Bhutan.
There is a strong feeling that Bhutan and Nepal are becoming buffer states. They are definitely prone to becoming pawns in a big game between the two Asian giants.
China has given its explanations but there is no Free Press to pry further and inform every one of this country’s true intentions. The world and the affected countries have taken to speculations and the most plausible one has raised alarm throughout South Asia; China is proving to be a massive threat but no action can be taken based on pure conjecture. The country and its intentions are cloaked with secrecy and the supposed faÃ§ade of self-development and integrity remains impervious to our prods. “Villainy may wear many masks but none as dangerous as the mask of virtue” Let’s hope that better sense prevails. Peace!
The writer is a Trainee Editor with Youth Ki Awaaz and also a student of Delhi University.
Related and recommended: India Runs On Thin Ice.
Image courtesy: http://ismica.com/2009/10/great-power-confrontation-indian-ocean-geopolitics-sri-lankan-civil-war/