The aftermath of the most violent face-off between China and India since 1967 has been inconclusive, with both sides holding military talks at the border and the international community condemning China’s actions. The U.S. and India have deployed vast numbers of forces in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). This article tries to explain how the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea region becomes a chokepoint for China, and the counter China assembled against it.
China’s growth requires massive amounts of energy production sources, and China being the biggest importer of crude oil in the world imports its major share from the Middle East and African nations which amounts up to 63% of its total imports . The major trade routes for these imports pass through the regions of the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. These regions pose a major threat to China as opposing nations can use political tools to hinder their trade and one such example is the “Malacca Dilemma“.
A famous term coined by the then President Hu-Jintao, refers to the narrow strip of lane in the Malacca Strait used to carry out trade in the region. The strait is bordered by Singapore, a major U.S. ally, and during conflict can pose major economic repercussions for China. There are other threats imposed by the Indian and U.S. naval forces’ presence in the region, such as the 1993 Chinese container ship (Yinhe) inspection by the U.S. and Saudi forces.
This explains why the U.S. threatens China against its policies anywhere on the globe by sending its naval forces to the China Seas. On the other hand, China has been experiencing such aggression since the 1990s and has tried to counter this threat through the Maritime Silk Road. The Maritime Silk Road is an initiative by China under the flagship of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to construct roads, railways, infrastructure and other facilities to facilitate trade and transport in regions of the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.
China, under its initiative, has signed many deals with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar which are littoral to the Indian Ocean and will help China counter the above-mentioned problems it faces in the IOR. These deals have made China’s access to its sources shorter and more securitized. The Myanmar-China oil and gas pipeline linking Kyaukphyu and Kunming, the China-Pakistan economic corridor linking Gwadar to Xinjiang and the acquisition of Hambantota port in Sri Lanka has made China’s entry and business in the IOR uncomplicated and securitized.
In addition to this, access to all these ports also reduces China’s distance from its source from 12,000 kms to just 2,000 kms by sea . These ports can also act as transition points in the movement of Chinese labour and capital from and to China as they have been increasing their foreign presence in African nations.
These investments by China in IOR littoral nations will become an escape route for China against U.S. and India’s fury in not only the IOR and South China sea, but will also help it tackle the major issues that restrict its trade in South-East Asia.