China strategy: One Pearl at a Time

The Chinese government has already adopted a “string of pearls” strategy for the Indian Ocean, which consists of setting up a series of ports in friendly countries along the ocean’s northern seaboard.China has had a hand in building or refurbishing several geo-strategically-located ports in the region. In Pakistan, ports at Gwadar and Karachi have undergone extensive improvements and dredging by Chinese companies, as well as the construction of a new highway connecting them. China further modernized or constructed ports belonging to Bangladesh, Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritania, Madagascar and Sri Lanka. This includes the $1 billion Sri Lankan port at Hambantota, which is a strategic six nautical miles from major sea lanes between the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea. China has also capitalized on a 1992 agreement with Myanmar for the construction of ports at Small and Great Coco Islands in return for the modernization of Myanmar’s navy.In addition, Chinese firms constructed or modernized ports at Sittwe, Kyuakpu, Mergui and Hainggyi Island. Soon after India announced its decision to go ahead with oil exploration in South China Sea with Vietnam, China on Saturday (SEP 17, 2011) said it would expand its exploration of 10,000 sq km of seabed in southwest Indian Ocean. This was announced as part of its 2011-2015 oceanic development policy.China’s application for deep-sea mining licence in central Indian Ocean has been cleared by an international body, leaving the Ministries of Defence and External Affairs concerned. They fear Beijing may use it as “an excuse to operate their warships in this area”. With China’s acquisition of several new nuclear-powered attack submarines and additional diesel-electric submarines, and also the introduction of an aircraft carrier (the Shi Lang), the PLA navy may choose to establish a longer-term, sustained presence in the Indian Ocean, in part to help safeguard its Sea line of Communications. India has also carefully cultivated ties with the countries of the Indian Ocean rim, including Mauritius, Maldives, Seychelles, and Madagascar, providing these countries with naval support, such as offshore naval patrol vessels and staff and training.

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