Monday, May 11, 2009

India breaks China's 'String of Pearls' strategy


The Chinese “String of Pearls” strategy around India appears to be have broken. By definition, the “String of Pearls” describes 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 (USAF Lieutenant Colonel Christopher J. Pehrson, “string of Pearls: meeting the challenge of china’s rising Power across the asian littoral” July 2006, Strategic Studies Institute, United States Army War College).

Around India, the Chinese pearls include Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius, Seychelles and Pakistan.Currently there might be no comprehensive policy by the current Indian government to contain it, but, a mix of luck, some policy, some internal and external events seem to have worked in favour of India.

Myanmar ( Burma): Sittwe Port, Coco Island, Burma Hianggyi, Khaukphyu, Mergui and Zadetkyi are the main names associated with Chinese interest in Myanmar. India shares a border of more than 1,600 kms with Myanmar. Myanmar also serves as a gateway to South East Asia and ASEAN and is supposed to be the Eastern Flank to the Bay of Bengal.

“Look East” policy by former Indian Prime minister, Father of Modern India, Hon. PV Narasimha Rao, had brought Myanmar in Indian sights. Subsequently, India had toned down its criticism of the junta, supplied Myanmar with military spares, joint action on rebels in each others borders and offered economic co-operation. Vice Senior General Maung Aye visited India from 2 to 6 April 2008. During his visit, The Kaladan Muti Model Transit Transport Project agreement was signed which saw India gaining access to Sittwe. India also signed Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement with Myanmar. India and Myanmar are engaged in various sectors like cross-border developmental projects, trade, IT, Telecommunication, hydrocarbon etc.

Myanmar does not lean towards China or India. It makes best of the competition between China and India which are competing for Myanmar’s resources.

Bangladesh: Bangladesh currently has an India friendly government and army. Before this Bangladesh had an anti-Indian government and Army. China had taken full advantage of it.

Nepal: China and India are currently locked under a tussle over Nepal. China can do little but has increased considerable influence with the Nepali Maoist. India is not expected to loose its clout in Nepal.

Sri Lanka: This is another area where China is trying to influence. Hambantota port is being developed by China and China is a supplier of military wares to Sri Lanka. Indian influence in Sri lanka is not expected to be lost.

Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles: China is trying, but, it is not successful in getting ports or bases in these countries due to Indian objections.

Pakistan: Pakistan is currently involved in counter insurgency in its own country and has a very heavy US influence. Pakistan proxy is not currently available to China due to US influence. Gwadar port, which was built with Chinese assistance is under the management of Singapore based company. Chinese have not been able to complete central Asia - Gwadar link due to US influence and Indian friendly government in Afghanistan.

There are two more countries that are within the Chinese String of Pearls strategy, i.e, Thailand and Cambodia. Thailand has a proximity with Indian Andaman and Nicobar Island. India needs to work on relations with Thailand. Cambodia is currently of less direct significance to India. For China, the fight for dominance over these regions is not yet over as it needs to secure its energy and trade route with Middle East and Africa. India needs a strategy to keep these gains and discourage Chinese dominance within Indian Ocean.