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Can India keep China at bay in the Indian Ocean?

China’s interest in the Indian Ocean is no secret, it contains vital sea lanes through which large share of import and exports pass. It is not shy about currying favour with littoral and island states through its Belt and Road initiative

Apr 2, 2018
By Parvati Shashankan 
 
China’s interest in the Indian Ocean is no secret, it contains vital sea lanes through which large share of import and exports pass. It is not shy about currying favour with littoral and island states through its Belt and Road initiative, a massive project to invest in infrastructure along ancient and modern techniques. India is wary with China’s interest in Indian Ocean. Both are competing for regional supremacy in the Indian Ocean as they look to establish a stronger military and economic presence in bordering countries.
 
India is uncomfortable with the thought of China dominating its own backyard. According to World Bank, intra-regional trade accounts for less than 5% of the total, compared with 35% for East Asia and 60% for Europe. Intra-regional investment is less than 1%.China’s promise to build lots of roads, ports and railways are alluring. The Indian Ocean has become a hotspot for weapons technology. China’s old ally Pakistan and the commitment towards Pakistan in the form of the China- Pakistan Economic Corridor. Over 60$billion has been promised, mostly for power stations to improve the country’s infamous electricity supply though the situation still remains the same. Pakistan lacks power stations. It has promised for roads, industrial zones, pipelines and deep water port at Gwadar, Pakistan. Both the countries are building economic corridor linking Gwadar port with China’s province to improve the connectivity between the two countries. A route through Gwadar offers China its shortest path to the oil-rich Middle East, Africa. A paper by the Centre for global development in Washington DC mentions, eight belt and road countries worldwide are at risk of debt. Maldives debt is probably over 100% GDP and Pakistan. Other countries on the critical list include Djibouti, where China has its first overseas military base, Laos and Mongolia. United States has India’s back. India is important to United States. United States stopped providing funds to Pakistan despite many warnings to destroy terrorist havens in their soil and true to their words they stopped providing funds. India is a natural ally of United States and both share a strong relationship with each other, also because of the share commitment to democracy and to counter terrorism.
 
In 2015, SriLanka’s former President Mahendra Rajapaksa lost elections due its closeness to China. During his tenure, China invested in Hambantota port. This was a wake-up call. China has already signed an agreement between Maldives and Sri Lanka for economic purpose. Maldives also has free trade agreement with both India and China. India raised its concerns in United States, Japan and Australia about Chinese intentions. These four are looking for ways to counter China. India balks at China’s investments and its plans to encircle India. India is doing its best to keep China at bay. It is still unclear whether China will be able to turn Indian Ocean as its own but one thing is clear, antagonism between China and India’s allies will intensify.
 
(Parvati Sasankan, a Chennai-based journalist,  can be reached at  parvati663@gmail.com)

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