The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has long transformed into a competitive zone for existing and emerging powers of the world. Major states are viewing their destinies in the high waters of an ocean that is the third largest on the globe. India and China are on the foremost list of contenders who are striving hard for the control since the relative disengagement of the United States (US). The two have had strong historical and cultural ties to the Indian waters. The former has christened it as ‘Ratnakara’, Sanskrit for the ‘mine of gems’ whereas the latter sees it as the very connection that would revive the Old Silk Route.
The maritime region holds paramount significance for China. A strong presence allows it to pursue its economic and political interests, constrained by adversaries in the South China Sea. The Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) are essential for the energy consuming country which relies on the Middle East to fulfill 80 percent of its oil requirments. In this scenario, any siege of Malacca and Hormuz Strait is almost unaffordable to an economy that is projected to surpass the US in decades to come. Not only China but many other chief states in the South Asian region, spearheaded and backed by the US such as Japan and India are dependent on the Middle East for petroleum. Any disruption in these SLOC can lead to economic breakdowns of major powers, similar to what was witnessed during the First and Second World War.
The IOR stores immense amount of resources in the form of islands, bays and straits. The Bay of Bengal has a wide range of fossil fuels and hydrocarbons. Andaman and Nicobar Islands are the major assets located at the juncture. India has militarized a number of these islands and is rushing forward with a fast pace. It has stationed its special naval forces in the territory and aims to increase the patrolling networks in the region. The US will soon provide India with drones to monitor the Chinese advancements in the region.
India and Communist China are drawing more intimacy with their allies to counter each other. Both have for long abided by this aphorism ‘the enemy of your enemy is your friend’. China partnered with Pakistan considering it as the antique enemy to India whereas India openly siding with the US, is now pushing with a ‘look east policy’ which allows it to gain new allies, most of whom are China’s adversaries in the troubled waters of the South China Sea.
The aim behind China’s strongman, Xi Jinping’s collaborated projects with the developing world is to ensure that their economic interests are safeguarded. The Indian Ocean allows China to achieve its long-term goals to sustain immense fiscal growth, providing it a stronger position to deter enemies and contenders alike.
Despite of India’s strong alliance mechanism, China’s ‘String of Pearls’ has quite tremendously tackled the Indian ‘look east policy’. Chinese development in Gwadar via the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project with Pakistan, has made its presence firm in the area. It has portrayed itself as a sympathizer to developing states but under the curtain of its goodwill for smaller states it has fully scratched the situation in its interest. The aim behind China’s strongman, Xi Jinping’s collaborated projects with the developing world is to ensure that their economic interests are safeguarded. The Indian Ocean allows China to achieve its long-term goals to sustain immense fiscal growth, providing it a stronger position to deter enemies and contenders alike.
A lot of hype has been created in the international media about the growing military dimensions in the region. Is there really any substance to that claim that goes contrary to the very approach brought about by the Chinese visionary and statesman Deng Xiaoping, who called for changing scenarios and policies primed by the states self-interest. However, critically looking at the very situation, China is playing a role of smart power. It has blended soft power and hard power approaches according to the need of time. It is for this reason that it has been relatively more successful in ventures all around the world than the other powers since a considerable period of time.
The claim of international media observers in the above context seems to have some grounds, like other great powers China too would like to guarantee its economic interests via maritime facilities on the key choke points. In recent times, the country has had talks with Bangladesh to allow it to develop a naval presence in Chittagong. Whereas, increasing speculations have been made that China has been allowed for a naval base in Pakistan’s strategically located port of Gwadar, a claim rejected by high-ranking officials from the country.
The relative decline of the US has allowed India and China to maneuver more openly in a region that is home to three nuclear powers: the former, the latter and Pakistan.
A new global order is taking birth and the IOR has a very important role to play in its shaping. Analysts and experts of subject-matter debate as to who will rise under these changing circumstances and what will be the power structure in decades to come. The relative decline of the US has allowed India and China to maneuver more openly in a region that is home to three nuclear powers: the former, the latter and Pakistan. Diverging set of interests are now competing for influence. Will the Indian Ocean become another South China Sea and is an escalation likely, is an interesting question. Like all social sciences, there is uncertainty in what lies ahead in international relations. The ‘peaceful rise of China’, which can be dubbed as the US equivalent to a ‘new world order’ seems to tackle the situation with diligence by providing a win-win situation to all parties. It also depends largely on the US and India, as to how far they are willing to push China, that could in the near future possibly influence the regional and international geopolitical setting. The economies of the People’s Republic of China and India are flourishing day by day whereas the US economy is not particularly in a very good shape. Economists are in fact worried for market slumps and possibly a new recession under the ill-thought and rather dubious vision of President Donald J. Trump. The two former socialist states have balanced their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with market economics whereas Trump’s vision of a closed-economy would in fact backtrack the tremendous Capitalist progression of an unprecedented nature. Although the economy of the US remains two-fold greater than China, the fast progress of the ‘Red Reagan’ can fill this lacuna in times to come. It is for time to tell as to which power would exert the most control over the IOR. According to the law of the sea, the oceans are international waters that remain open for all states, no one party has the exclusive right or jurisdiction to impede in any way the right of other states beyond what is permissible. However, historically speaking international law has had little effect on the power politics of great powers.
majoring in International Relations from the National Defence University, Islamabad. She has an avid interest in Global Security, International Law and Politics.