India encircled by China’s string of pearls?

July 28, 2009

Many in India believe that Beijing is building special relationships with India’s old foe Pakistan and Sri Lanka and is extending its reach down the Indian Ocean.

China’s ‘String of Pearls’ strategy seems to be surrounding India and has given food for thought to many in New Delhi for quite some time now.

At the G8 summit in L’Aquila recently, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a bid in front of the international community to include India in the United Nations Security Council, which would put it on par with China, which is one of the five permanent members.

Christopher J. Pehrson, author of the book “String of Pearls: Meeting the challenge of china’s rising power across the Asian littoral”, says the ‘String of Pearls’ describes the manifestation of China’s rising geopolitical influence through efforts to increase access to ports and airfields, develop special diplomatic relationships and modernize military forces that extend from the South China Sea through the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and on to the Arabian Gulf.

Though India is trying to make a stronghold in South Asia, China seems to have been working consistently over the last four decades to strengthen its south Asian presence and fulfil its ‘String of Pearls’ policy, and that has many in India worried.

Alka Acharya, head of East Asian studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, says that China’s ‘string of pearls’ policy started in the 1980s and its basic aim was to give China increased energy security with refueling stations throughout the world.

But it has helped China project its political and military influence further. Some in India think China’s latest addition to its string of pearls is the Hambantota port in southern Sri Lanka.

Construction on the first phase began last year with Chinese funding, and the whole $1 billion project is expected to finish by 2023.

B. Raman, a retired senior government official, has written a paper on the project of Hambantota port in which he mentions that “the Chinese interest is more strategic than purely commercial. It is very unlikely that Sri Lanka would allow the Chinese Navy to use Hambantota against India. But a Chinese naval presence in Hambantota would add to the concerns of the Indian Navy by increasing the vulnerability of the South to pressures from the Chinese Navy.”

Raman also mentions in his paper that China had helped Pakistan with a similar project in Gwadar on the Mekran coast in Balochistan.

The first phase of construction has already been completed and the port was given a nod when Pervez Musharraf was the president.

When it is done, Hambantota is likely to have an aviation fuel storage facility and a liquefied natural gas refinery. The first phase will have bunkering facilities to refuel ships that pass the nearby shipping lanes, among the world’s busiest.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa says India has nothing to worry about because the project is strictly a commercial venture.

India though is taking no chances and is increasing its troops along the northeastern border so as to prevent any further infiltration of Chinese soldiers, who had illegally entered Indian territory last year.

A retired intelligence officer who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said China had begun building a road in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in the early 1970s.

“We had got hold of a source who told us that China was building a road from China- Gilgit- Neelam Valley, they had also planned a number of tunnels and bridges in places where roads couldn’t be constructed,” the officer said.

The status of the road is not known, some say it is still under construction.

The Karakoram Highway, which connects China’s Xinjiang region with Pakistan’s north, can also be seen as one of China’s pearls. The highway, called the ninth wonder of the world by some because of its altitude, was completed in 1986 after 20 years of construction.

The road opened up China-Pakistan trade and gave both of India’s rivals a fast route through the mountains, not far from the Line of Control in Kashmir.

Should India be worried about China’s String of Pearls, and will the Chinese strategy dampen India’s plans to be the dominant power in South Asia?


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China is not competing with India, she is competing with rest of the world. Chinese are well aware of the big players in this world and their hold on energy. For countries like India and China, unfortunately we will have to look for energy sources outside of our countries, for that to achieve we have to be financially, strategically well positioned. It is just a game of survival, they will protect their interest no matter what, and if anyone thinks war is not possible option then they are mistaken. If not a direct war, it will be proxy war.Call it a String of Pearls or Global Presence or World police, these exist with different names throughout the history of humans. China is determined to get what she wants to survive. Unlike western world where people understand the importance of energy and the demand for water and food, Chinese and Indian citizens still need to understand that mother earth cannot produce unlimited resources. To survive and live a comfortable life we have to work hard and have great discipline to achieve it, and Chinese are achieving that by communism and twisting the arms of their citizens. Unfortunately Indians cannot do that in democratic society, we have to understand that for greater good of India and her people, we will have to come out of this precarious situation soon, we will have become self sufficient in science, engineering and agriculture.

Posted by Satish | Report as abusive

Up untill today the Indian Government hasn’t found its position in the geopolitical world. It blindly follows what the west tells it. Like its Govt., media channels accept whatever the West media feed them. Indian Govt is not an independent Govt in essence. Indian people still largely live in a colony mentality. Look at how they admire the rich and discriminate the poor. There is no basic amenities for the majority rural population in this country.

Posted by Straight-talker | Report as abusive

China clearly has aspirations to have a strong naval presence to protect its energy supply routes. This implies it anticipates a conflict in that area. We need a strong and independent India that can protect its sea routes and deter China from future aggression or coercion.

Posted by bart | Report as abusive

@India should act like a decent neighbour and not as an imperialist thug to win the hearts & minds of Sri Lankans.- Posted by Asoka Kuruppu-Buddy, I see you are trying to act like a little bully here.I also think India should act like an imperiliast power and justify your allegations. Stay within your limits and know them. It is due to India that SL is free of LTTE trouble and India govt is facing problems at home for that. Blame them for good reasons and have a sense of gratitude for good reason. Just know your strengths and limitations and depending upon foregn powers does not make you any strong. Just remember that Golden crutches look beautuful but at the same time tell how handicapped you are. In a real war type sitution, you do not even have those crutches yet. Just behave.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

@Why do people think economics will prevent war? Historically, war is most likely to erupt between major trading partners. China is imperialist. The Han dominate many foreign cultures right now and force them to remain a part of China. They will spread their influence around India and then make India a puppet state.-Posted by Remembers-would you like to give several examples to support your statement?Rest is mostly laughable.

Posted by rajeev | Report as abusive

China is out to get India. And the our neighbours will join the fun. For them, its an opportunity to hedge against India and for China its a great opportunity to protect its energy routes, get access to the Indian Ocean and keep India under check.

Posted by GoonerDP | Report as abusive

So all these talk about India shining was a farce.Only rich are shinig in India.Why all our neighbouring countries including Hindu Nepal have strategic ties with China is definitely a need for soul searching for us.Now our defence minister is going to Muslim Maldives for strategic ties to counter china. Will BJP if comes to power reverse this decision or will they swallow their pride and continue this relationship with this muslim country ?

India’s progress in Industry and Software and general economic progress worries China which indulges in acts of cheap desperation. I agree with Indian Patriot that in the next decade India will hold its own in this World.There will not be an unprovoked 1962 like aggression as India will not take it lying down this time.I think as a nation we must boycott cheap Chinese products anyway and ensure that they do not gain from us.China is to a large extent is influenced by Buddhism which took roots in India and spread from here. Hence their people are likely to be peaceful in nature – except the Communist driven Army which acts under orders not neccessarily out of reverence for the nation but due to compulsions on the other hand the Indian Army is committed with Passion, Patriotism and Honor which boost the quality of our forces over the Chinese numbers.We have seen Indians outperform the Chinese in American Universities. China is jealous of India’s progress and fears being overtaken economically.I would urge the world to unite against the Chinese and boycott their cheap goods and products to ensure they are stifled economically.Sateesh S Magal

Posted by SATEESH MAGAL | Report as abusive

Chinese irrevelant strong cliams on India’s northeastern most province of Arunachal Pradesh & a part of Kashmir, objecting the seperate visits of Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh and Dalai Lama, frequent deep intrusion in the Indian territory, Sailing in the Indian Ocean near Indian teriirory, Supporting Pakista, its Army and helping build them infraqstructure in the disputed Indian Kashmir. Pushing opium and fake money in the Indian market, has made India to take the dialogue process seriously with China. India’s deployment of 200 Su 30MKI in the Arunachal Pradesh was an answer but we don’t want any military action.
Developing ports in the neighbouring countries, supporting Pakistan to develop infrastructure on disputed Indian territory is what China doing. If China doesnt recognize Kashmir, then we should also not Recognize tibet as Chinese part, and should declare Taiwan independent

~With Regards

Posted by sanskar27 | Report as abusive

China’s containment policy against India is just part of its larger geo-political struggle against the U.S in Asia.It’s no secret that the main purpose of the recent strengthening of alliances between the U.S and the rest of Asia such as those with south korea Japan and India is to deny China dominance of Asian affairs. Since India is seen to be the largest power within Asia within the next 30yrs alongside China. Straddling India before they get out of hand is China’s best counter-strategy.

Posted by rc231 | Report as abusive