Power dynamics in the Indian Ocean
Global politics will always retain its relevance and global powers are always in a search for a platform to vie. Indian Ocean has become such a platform for the global leadership. Global shift from geo-politics to geo-economics and use of sea lanes for global trade and energy transportation have rendered the importance of ports and seas more discernible.
“Whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia”__ Alfred Thayer Mahan
The above quote of the American naval strategist depicts the significance of the Indian Ocean very succinctly. Indian Ocean, the world’s third largest ocean and bounded by Africa and the Arabian peninsula, provides critical sea trade routes that connect the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. Presence of strategic chokepoints; including the Straits of Hormuz and of Malacca, through which 80 percent of the global oil trade passes; in its realm further increases its signifi-cance and makes it the venue for the Next Great Game ,while making it a cynosure in world politics. Furthermore, Chi-na’s expandable global influence and India’s rapid economic proliferation have heightened the ocean’s strategic value.
Three major powers ; India, China and USA ; are vying for political clout in the Indian Ocean arena, while viewing the region through their own geostrategic lenses. India with its ” Look East” policy , China with its “Belt and Road Initiative” and the USA with its “Indo-Pacific strategy” have buffeted the Indian Ocean region. China and India are dependent on energy resources transported via the secure sea lanes in the Indian Ocean to fuel their economies and both are compet-ing hard to gain the upper hand. Regionalism has become a key factor in gaining success in the Asia Pacific region. Each country is seeking to strengthen ties with regional states to secure their respective security and economic intrigues. New Delhi and Washington share a common goal of curbing the Chinese sway in Asia , as the USA bolsters India as a coun-terweight to China.
The China-India strategic rivalry in the Indian Ocean region is a result of a number of factors: China’s cordial relationship with Pakistan and setting up the China-Pakistan Economic Bahawalpur, a key project in China’s BRI; China’s trade, in-vestment and diplomatic advancement in central Asian states; China’s expanding naval and military presence in the Indian Ocean region; increasingly maritime-focused rivalry between the two; border disputes between both countries and lastly the two nations’ starkly different political systems.
Countering Beijing is one of New Delhi’s goals. India initiated the “Look East policy” to build trade and commercial ties with East Asian states, which have been crucial in stimulating India’s economic growth and its geopolitical rise. India has also forged closer trade and economic ties with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman for the security of energy resources for its growing economy. New Delhi has also redirected its regional foreign policy by building closer ties with friendly countries in the Indian Ocean region, including Bhutan, Mauritius and Maldives. Military and security factors are also gaining significance, as the Indian Navy is increasingly focused on countering its Chinese counterpart.
On the other hand, China has come with its BRI project to counter India. BRI is an ambitious program unveiled in 2013 to connect Asia, Europe and Africa through a network of roads and sea routes to revamp regional integration and boost economic growth. China has also undertaken endeavours to modernize its military, particularly its naval deployment capabilities, and has also built naval facilities in Karachi, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Maldives to counter the growing mili-tary leverage of the USA and India. China is accentuating its relations with regional countries to proliferate its political influence. China has been involved in the funding and building of commercial ports in South Asian countries. China has improved its relations with Bangladesh, owing to its geographical proximity to Bay of Bengal which occupies a very im-perative place in Indian Ocean strategy, and has become the largest supplier of military equipment and both have en-hanced their business and tourism. Last but not least, China’s relations with Myanmar and Nepal are also considerably increased because of the presence of Strait of Malacca in vicinity.
The USA is also playing its influential part in curtailing the hegemony of China in Asia. Diplomatic ties with India and strengthening its partnership with Chinese rivals, like Taiwan and South Korea are lucid manifestations that it does not want China to flourish in the region. Furthermore, QUAD (Quadrilateral security dialogue), a diplomatic and military partnership among USA, Australia, Japan and India to curb China’s economic and political influence, was re-established by Trump in 2017 and further elevated to ministerial levels for discussion. These countries are affirmative to cooperate on maritime security and regional connectivity. The USA has massive military presence at different bases in the regional countries and occupied islands, like Diego Garcia in Indian Ocean and Guam in Pacific. The USA is also busy streamlining the naval capacity of India to nullify the modernistic China.
A cold war among major powers, which collectively account for nearly half of global economy, has already started and will have scathing economic, technological and military repercussions for the regional countries, including Pakistan.