Pentagon is now saying what India has always insisted. In a recently released report, it says China is expanding its access to strategic ports such as Pakistan’s Port Gwadar & Sri Lanka’s Port Hambantota.
The Pentagon sees this as the logistical framework needed for dominating the Indian Ocean and beyond. It says that China is expanding its access to foreign ports such as Gwadar to sustain developments in the Indian Ocean. The Big Dragon’s primary possessions in the Indian Ocean include commercial ports owned and operated by Chinese firms, the two largest of them being Port Gwadar & Port Hambantota.
In addition, China has financed a container shipping facility in Chittagong, Bangladesh. In order to assuage India’s feelings that this base was not part of any Chinese grand design, and in a sign of good bilateral relations, Bangladesh has declared the port to be off limits for military vessels. Well, the good thing is that India is not merely worrying, but has taken steps to counter China.
In 2007, India opened up an overseas military listening post in Madagascar, with the aim of better overseeing shipping movements through the Mozambique Gulf. With the same intentions, it has hosted negotiations with Mauritania regarding the construction of an airstrip for Indian surveillance aircraft.
In 2017, New Delhi announced that it would fund a deepwater port at Sittwe, Burma, with a highway connection from that port to India. What Pentagon has not mentioned is the String of Pearls, the geopolitical theory on potential Chinese intentions in the Indian Ocean region.
It refers to the network of the Chinese military, commercial facilities and relationships along its sea line of communications, which runs through several ports, choke points and strategic maritime centres, from mainland China to Port of Sudan in the Horn of Africa.
Indian experts believe that this string of ports in conjunction with China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as well as China’s Belt and Road Initiative under Xi Jinping, poses a serious threat to its security.
Beijing has, however, maintained that its motives are economic and not military. But while a claim by a democratic country like India can be taken at face value, China’s positioning, even if correct, is not likely to impress smaller countries, who are overawed by its military and economic might. While China has always eyed South Asia as a potential backyard, both to counter India and use close ally Pakistan as a pawn against New Delhi, the sky’s the limit, when it comes to Beijing’s global ambitions.
The Congressionally mandated report titled “China’s global expansion by military and non-military means”, points out that the People’s’ Liberation Army (PLA) efforts to obtain access to commercial ports in Africa & the Middle East would align with its future overseas needs.
In 2015, China announced its intention to build military facilities in Djibouti, citing reasons to help the Navy and Army further participate in UN Peacekeeping operations, carry out escort missions in waters near Somalia and Gulf of Eden and provide humanitarian assistance.
The world, wary of the goings on in the South China Sea, is watching and waiting.