Since the impact of geographic and economic perspectives of one country reflects the geopolitical influence upon a particular region over political ties or diplomatic strings shared with other states, the significance of the strategic location of such a region cannot ever be underestimated in understanding the behaviour of the states within the dimensions of the global political rivalry.
Stressing upon the significance of the location of the Indian Ocean, today as a vital region, there is a competing power rivalry overbuilding the enduring ties with other states to win their respective interests by the dominant powers of the globe.
Deviating from a bipolar world towards a world system that is dominated by the American hegemony as the global policemen after the collapse of the USSR in 1991 marking the end of the cold war, it has been subjected to a possibility which has the capability in transforming the existing system into a multipolar one in terms of global power rivalry now. The sovereign states are keen to accomplish their respective national interests through their strategic and foreign policies relatively.
The Indian Ocean region is well known as the most important region due to its significance in light of marine and other natural resources, vital sea line, the strategic locations of Straits of Bab el-Mandab, Malacca, Hormuz and the geographic location which is in favour of security perspectives of the states etc.
Indian Ocean Region
The power vacuum in the Indian Ocean region which was created due to the absence of the United Kingdom with decolonisation after the Second World War, the emergence of regional dominants such as India, Japan and China, armament or nuclear race between India and Pakistan, the USA’s interest over the region by the virtue of their national interests, seaborne trade concerns & being the most vulnerable and volatile region which is subjected to the traditional and non-traditional security threats are the reasons which mirror the underpinning circumstances for the aforesaid extra-regional power involvement in the Indian Ocean.
Most of these devastating threats involve in violent and protracted conflicts, maritime piracy, human smuggling, drug trafficking, global terrorism, cyber-crimes and environmental degradation as well.
Moreover, the United States also has increased their military capacity within the region through deploying US forces in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq and especially in Diego Garcia where it is utilised as a logistic hub and as an air-naval base for its troops. Diego Garcia has been used for the operations carried out by NASA also where its runway is renowned for being an emergency landing site for the space shuttles.
The USA has hundreds of logistic and military bases from Singapore to Djibouti as well as from Bahrain to Brazil particularly and has deployed some important naval task forces to manage some of the aforementioned non-traditional security threats. The USA current attempts to negotiate new agreements with Sri Lanka also can be construed as a result of this power rivalry of the Indian Ocean as per some foreign policy anticipations. Not only the US but also India and China have competing interests over the region and that is reflected as a crystal clear manifestation in light of their economic, political and diplomatic policy implementations now.
The use of soft power as a strategic trap to handle the tension that is arisen due to this superpower rivalry in the Indian Ocean, China has adopted innovative policies in shaping its journey towards becoming the dominant power of the region and beyond. China has developed its diplomatic (since 1950), military (since 1966), economic (since 1979), strategic (since 1972) relations with Pakistan also after the end of the Second World War where it has become Pakistan’s largest supplier of arms as well.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is an ideal example of the strategic means of China about a collection of infrastructure development projects. Furthermore, China has introduced its famous “One Belt- One Road” (OBOR) or Belt and Road initiative (BRI)with “Silk Road Initiative” in 2013 under the administration of President Xi Jinping by extending its generous hand towards the developing countries in Asia through Loan facilities, major investments in infrastructure development projects and military assistance.
The major objectives of BRI are policy coordination, connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and connecting people where it has two core components including the ‘economic land belt’ as well as the maritime road. Bearing its legacy from the ancient maritime Silk Road, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Myanmar is noteworthy to be some of the countries that China has expanded its strategies through the modern string of pearls and maritime silk route apparently.
In response to the Chinese strategies, India also has reacted in a way which has fabricated its various developments as well as by extending the hand of friendship towards its neighbouring states through soft power while enhancing strategic relations with USA and Japan as well. However, the BRI is a great golden thread in linking many states in the Indian Ocean Region and has already driven as per an attractive vision as to promote better connectivity, deepen linkage to improve mutual understanding and to foster long-term stability in the region.
As the world’s second-largest economy, China had accepted BRI as an official national strategy linking more than 71 countries to the initiative, even though it denies the actual geopolitical ambitions explicitly on the global platform.
Perhaps, the aforesaid grand strategy of China has embarked upon several projects around the US $ 8 trillion and in its journey to explore new markets abroad, mutually benefit from infrastructure development projects, sometimes being the biggest trading partner for most of the participant countries of BRI, the internal circumstances has provided China well with numerous progressive policies. For instance, the functioning and facilitation by policy banks and major state-owned banks are remarkable in terms of realising the national interests of China through an economic perspective.
Global Political Rivalry
In light of the regional diplomacy of China, ‘Develop the West’ and ‘Revive the Northeast’ are some of the reflections of the Chinese aspirations in the global political rivalry. There is an inevitable power rivalry in the Indian Ocean even among the extra-regional superpowers and some states are suspicious even about Chinese strategies whether it needs to become the dominant power of the globe or not.
Inheriting numerous shortcomings also as a collection of gigantic economic projects, China is dealing with the most volatile region of the world under the pressure of other dominant powers such as the USA, Japan and India and it has been facing the market fluctuations undoubtedly where it has contributed even to Sri Lanka’s economic development on the other hand with an investment worth at least $ 8 billion.
The Port City project (CIFC) is the enormous project of China in Sri Lanka and it is a great gesture of future development of the country. Hambantota Port and the adjoining industrial zone are some of the valuable infrastructure developments fostering the vitality of the harbour in terms of its strategic geographic location.
The Colombo Port Expansion and the modernising project is a project which is implemented under Chinese infrastructure investment policies and this is the only port in the South Asia region with a deep-water terminal that could attract larger vessels due to its higher efficiency and faster delivery times.
Obtaining soft loan facilities from China, Sri Lanka could build its first-ever coal power plant which is known as ‘Norochcholai’ or ‘Lakvijaya’ coal power plant in 2014.
Thus, under the power confrontation within the Indian Ocean region, playing a pioneer role in light of its own economic strategies even through the Belt and Road initiative as well, China has accomplished its interests up to a considerable limit and the other dominant powers also have expanded their capacities by building enduring bilateral relations with the countries in the region through diplomatic, political, economic, military, security and cultural means.
As the most specific as well as the violent region of the world, it has played as a heaven to the competing powers of the region to harvest their respective national interests fruitfully or partially.
Therefore, all of them are in a constant strategic struggle to induce the states of the region and this inevitable situation will be prevailing for many more years to come until the world system is subjected to the limelight of multi-polarity or a new global hegemony.