Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Myanmar: The probable battleground between India and China

Very interesting observation that Myanmar will become probable battleground between India and China for its oil and gas.

So, Bangladesh is now caught between India and China pull!

Read on:

Commentary: The Indian Ocean is not a Chinese lake
TORONTO, Aug. 14
Column: Abroad View

As India becomes the third or fourth economic power in the world in the next 20 to 30 years, it will have to turn its attention toward the fractured state of politics in the Indian Ocean states. Today, African nations bordering the Indian Ocean are in a state of turmoil. Politics in countries like Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia are unsettled. The Middle East has been boiling for the last 60 years, due to its oil wealth and the creation of the state of Israel.

Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, representing the bulk of humanity in the Indian Ocean states, have never seen peace in the last half century. Myanmar has become an outcast from the world community and probable battleground between India and China for its oil and gas. Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore are slowly moving into the economic iron grip of China. Indonesia and Australia have affinities with China and the West respectively.

Chinese sooner or later will use its sizeable community in Southeast Asia to foster its political and economic agenda. The Chinese are also slowly moving into the Indian Ocean. Hence, why should not India exercise its influence in the Indian Ocean? India has the naval muscle and the economy to match. It also has a political and economic system worth copying in the ethnically diverse nations of the Indian Ocean. R

ealizing that the Indians were weak, as well as busy over neighborhood disputes with Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Chinese were the first to make a move in the Indian Ocean. Ten years ago they established a listening post off the coast of Myanmar, to monitor Indian naval communications and the sea-lanes in the Bay of Bengal leading to Singapore.

Out of nowhere, China decided five years ago to build the Pakistani port of Gawadr to help Pakistan acquire a new naval facility opposite the Straits of Hormuz. It was a masterstroke that has tied Pakistan to the Chinese sphere of influence for a long time. Also, China has clinched a deal to establish a submarine dock facility in the Maldives in the Arabian Sea, so close to India's western coast. India has good reason to be upset with these developments.

China's trump card is its export merchandise, which it can offer to any nation on good terms and carry the day. Although these exports have not conquered the traditional markets for European, U.S. and Indian goods in the Indian Ocean states, the Chinese are trying hard. They followed up their hard sell with a visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Africa last February that included Cameroon, Liberia, Sudan, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique and the Seychelles. The whole purpose of this visit was to outflank Indian, European and U.S. interests. In countering these Chinese moves head-on, India should be front and center, backed by U.S. and European powers.

India has finally ended its Cold War position with the completion of the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, and it is now time to strengthen its position in the Indian Ocean. First and foremost Chinese influence in Myanmar should be neutralized. India should end its opposition to the military junta's rule there. Any military hardware supplied by China to the junta should be countered with better and more flexible equipment. Europe and the United States should help and not stand in the way of Indian exports. This will prevent China grabbing all of Myanmar's offshore gas field output.

The West must realize that the present military rulers are well entrenched. They will not make room for a civilian Western-educated liberal democrat, married to a British citizen, in the country's power structure. Compared to Myanmar, turning Pakistan away from China is a hard job. China has cleverly bound Pakistan by strategic means. In the past 15 years China has provided Pakistan with nuclear weapons designs, helped it acquire missiles and now built a strategic port for it. In times of need, China has also provided Pakistan with critical political support.

The US$10 billion in military aid from the United States to Pakistan over the last five years has not accomplished anything useful, including weaning Pakistan from its strategic relationship with China. For the foreseeable future, Pakistan will remain China's satellite in the Indian Ocean. The Maldives and other places are not hard nuts to crack in terms of winding up Chinese naval activities. All India needs to do is to match the Chinese offers. The world for the next 40 years will be dependent on oil from the Middle East. In addition India may be buying huge amounts of gas from this area.

It is important that India offer protection for this seaborne commerce. The sea lanes of greatest importance stretch from the Gulf of Hormuz to the Malacca Straits. This stretch carries 40 percent of the world's oil to its destinations in South and Southeast Asia, China, Japan and the United States. Commerce has repeatedly been threatened by terrorists, pirates and failed states that wish to make a political point. India, with U.S. support, must provide protection for this major sea highway. Already the United States and India have been holding naval exercises and discussing joint maritime patrols. This is a step in the right direction. The United States is now willing to consider more Indian requests for advanced military hardware.

Another important sea route is the one that carries oil exports from the Middle East to Europe. Europe wishes to conserve its own oil and is making heavy demands on Middle Eastern oil. This cannot go through the Suez Canal, because oil-laden ships cannot traverse the shallow canal. Therefore these mega ships travel to Europe hugging the eastern seacoast of Africa, via the Cape of Good Hope and onward to Europe. The bulk of oil shipments to the U.S. Atlantic coast take the same route. Hence its protection is also of paramount importance. Chinese presence there is unwanted and unnecessary. It only complicates an already delicate situation.

Nobody will mind India's presence there. India provided seaward protection to the African Union Summit in Mozambique in 2003 and earned a high reputation for this job.

Economically, India must mount a massive effort in the next 10 years to re-establish its presence in the Indian Ocean. Nobody can argue that Indians cannot meet the needs for goods and services of the Indian Ocean states. From the Middle East to the eastern seaboard of Africa, including backward Myanmar, the massive population base of 500 million should be looking to India, Europe and the United States.

A clever way to establish Indian hegemony in the area would be to establish an Indian Ocean Littoral States Bank to finance trade and development in the region. The United States and Europe would have to support it, but it would be in their interest to keep China out of the Indian Ocean.

In short, the Indian Ocean is not a Chinese lake. China should not be allowed to capitalize on temporary Indian inaction in the area. India must take a leading role in developing and managing the aspirations of the people in the area. In addition India has to guarantee safe passage for maritime commerce. To this affect, India needs to build up its naval and military muscle to make its presence felt.

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