String of Pearls
- With recent docking of China’s nuclear powered submarine in Sri Lanka’s Colombo port, the discussion on String of Pearls became heated once again.
- The String of Pearls theory is used to describe trading and economic partnership, eventually translating to security arrangements like naval facilities, airstrips or listening stations, spotting the world map like a “string of pearls. (See picture below)
- Joint Naval Operations: India is constantly engaged with major powers, in join naval practices, which not only increases confidence but also approves of solidarity from the partners. China is lacking in this sphere.
- If we see only the red spots with a star, it exhibits string of pearls formed by China. Similarly, Indian flag forms Indian string of pearls.
- It is quite clear China has a two-ocean strategy. Although the immediate threats to China are in the Pacific, Beijing is keen to overcome its geographic limitations in the Indian Ocean.
- China has, for the first time, attempted to spell out its strategy — and plans — to secure its interests in the Indian Ocean in its first “blue book” on the region. The blue book makes a case for China to deepen its economic engagements with the Indian Ocean Region’s (IOR) littoral states, but stresses that Beijing’s interests will be driven by commercial — rather than military — objectives.However, it warns that the Indian Ocean could end up “as an ocean of conflict and trouble” if countries like India, the U.S. and China failed to engage with each other more constructively as their interests begin to overlap.The book’s introduction says that China “has no Indian Ocean strategy,” while India has put forward its own “Look East” policy and the U.S. has put in place its “pivot” or “rebalancing” in Asia.
- India had an edge considering its geographical extent in Indian ocean and its historical linkages with countries not only in IOR but also Pacific countries like Fiji, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Kiribati etc. Most of these countries especially Fiji in Pacific and Mauritius and Maldives in IOR has a history of indentured labourers being moved from India during colonial days in 19th century.
- India has been proactive in re-establishing the ties and creating its own string of pearls to counter China’s. Recent visits by Prime Minister Modi to island countries in IOR and recently help FIPIC conference are steps in this direction. Some of the recent developments are:
- Seychelles: Agreement for infrastructure development in Assumption Island. Though officially that island has been leased for tourism development, but in actuality, it could be put to use as a listening and surveillance post.
Earlier Seychelles has offered China its harbor for refueling and docking of Chinese warships stationed in Gulf of Aden for anti piracy operations.
- Mauritius: India and Mauritius signed an agreement to upgrade sea and air links of remote Agalega Islands, providing India a foothold in the middle of Indian Ocean.
- Sri Lanka: India will be developing an Oil Tank Farm near Trincomalle in Eastern Sri Lanka.
Chinese had built Hambantota deep sea port in southern Sri Lanka, though Sri Lankan administration has repeatedly denies its linkage to String of Pearls and has said that it only had economic engagements.
- Iran: India is making the Chahbahar port and its closeness to China built Gwadhar port in Pakistan is conspicuous.
It should be noted that China is making an alternative energy import pathway through Pakistan.
- Though strictly not limited to India-China case only, String of Pearls theory has got prominence discussing China’s effort to counter India’s naval prominence in Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
- India is actively pursuing to maintain its supremacy in IOR through its diplomacy and constant upgrade of naval power, though not at a pace at which China is modernizing its fleet. It would be prudent on part of India not to engage in any display of power but only insure its interests in Indian Ocean region, through its “String of Pearls”.