China is rising in the Indian Ocean, replacing the Soviet Union. And India and America must get used to it.
That’s the conclusion of a paper recently published by the International Affairs Group of the Center for Security Studies, based in Washington. “The Chinese flag has become ubiquitous on the high seas around the world, especially in the Indian Ocean where the presence of Chinese warships has become routine,” notes the center.
“U.S. Navy planners should assume that the PLA Navy’s presence in the western Indian Ocean will grow, and that new bases and places will be organized to support its expanded presence. U.S. authorities can no longer assume unencumbered freedom of action when electing to posture U.S. naval forces offshore of the Horn of Africa and other East African hotspots.”
That is also true for hotspots near India, too. Like Sri Lanka’s ports of Colombo and Hambantota, which have given Beijing a trade outpost into the Indian Ocean.
What’s Beijing try to accomplish in the Indian Ocean? Several missions. One of them is protecting its ships carrying oil from the Gulf states from piracy. “The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been conducting anti-piracy operations continuously in the Arabian Sea since December 2008,” notes the Center for Security Studies.
Another mission is to deter America from blockading the Strait of Malacca, a key passage in the Indo-Pacific region, a strategic waterway for trade between Africa and the Middle East on the one side, and Asian countries on the other.
The Strait of Malacca has grown in significance in recent years with the rise of China—as a major trade competitor of Japan, and a challenger to America’s dominance in both the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.
China has grown increasingly dependent on the Middle East for its oil needs, which must be shipped through the Strait of Malacca to reach its shores. This means that Beijing runs the risk of being cut off from Middle East oil supplies should America blockade the Strait — in the event of a further escalation of South China Sea disputes or an outright war between America and China over Taiwan.
A third mission is to encircle India from the sea by turning trade outposts into military outposts.
But India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is taking a number of measures to make sure that this won’t happen. Like the hosting multi-nation naval exercises in the Indo-Pacific region, like the one in Malabar in the Bay of Bengal last year with Japan and Australia.
And it hosted another one in March that included 23 nations, drawing the angry protests of Beijing.
While it is still unclear where the balance among naval powers will tip, one thing is clear: geopolitical risks will continue to rise in the region, something which investors in the local equity markets should cast a wary eye on.
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