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India’s Neighbourhood Policy: Modi continues to scratch his head with firewood

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap]ndia’s relations with our neighbours are historical and traditional. During the Cold War, the behaviour of US and Soviet Union across the world had forced India to pursue less foreign policy initiatives, focus on domestic issues. Now China tries to do that job to India.

As India’s presence across the Indian Ocean declining, China filled the void of dominant power in the regions sphere of influence. At present China, has danced across the Indian Ocean, welcoming all neighbours as a dancing partner. Our observations lead us to presume that our neighbours are keen to continue this relationship with China because of Modi’s unrealistic foreign policy articulations. If this strategy persists India’s future relationship with her neighbours will be in jeopardy. As the window to thwart their ties with China continues to slowly close, the window of opportunity on the Chinese side is wide open. Lots of promises were made during the 2014 election campaign by prime ministerial candidate Modi and have yet to be fulfilled. Though Modi has less perception on foreign policy, he talked louder about the subject than any other candidate but failed to provide any clear policy framework. Days before the election, he heavily criticised the Congress government on its neighbourhood policies. In the last three years Modi’s strategy for neighbour relations has had no clear policy direction. This is seen in particular with India’s relationship with Pakistan, Nepal, and the Maldives, all of whom have seen a new low in diplomatic and economic relations. Sri Lanka wants to travel in two tracks, with both India and China. Our efforts are huge in Afghanistan butprovide little to our interest. Now this government is facing the real heat of their policy. The focus of this article is to critically evaluate how Modi has dealt with our neighbours in the last three years.

Pakistan is a major neighbouring state. During 2013-14 the Prime Ministerial candidate Modi attacked Dr Manmohan Singh stating his leadership should have more guts with strategic trajectory in handling Pakistan than the Congress Party led UPA government. Today, Modi is in a desperate mood as he faces people’s expectations and questions, in particular – in what way has his government policy differentiated from the previous Congress Party’s foreign policy? What happened to the promises made on the campaign trail?

In the last three years more than 150 armed forces members were killed while fighting terrorists and recently two soldiers martyred in active combat. Not only were these two soldiers killed in action, but they were mutilated and beheaded by Pakistan army. Though these acts are against the International Human Rights Law and Geneva Conventions, Pakistan denounced the claim for responsibility and failed to act. In the face of such a cruel and inhuman act, what is or where was Modi’s response to Pakistan?

Last September the BJP attempted to take credit for the surgical strike made by the Indian army that occurred on Modi’s order. Modi’s Administration statement states that the Pakistani Ambassador to India was summoned during this. While the Congress Party government did it, it was criticised by the BJP. Now it is the BJPs turn. They have to respond to the people, especially as ceasefire violations are continuing. The Uri attack was unforgivable, and Pathankot would be unforgettable. This government is functioning by statements and phrases. So what about Udhampur, Gurdaspur and Pampore? Modi’s strategists simply stopped with statements of condemnations. Has Pakistan been contained or controlled? No. What is this government’s policy on Pakistan? Does it have any worth-while, effective foreign policies? Would Modi’s foreign policy articulators have any perceptions on strategy? Why did Modi visit Pakistan to wish his counterpart on his birthday? Would this not be considered a bluff incident to analyse and ultimately be criticised by IR scholars? Why this sudden failed tilt? Without any homework, Modi’s Pakistan visit was more of a performance and created big media debate than anything else. This is not a strategic move.  

With what reason was Pakistan allowed to investigate the Pathankot base? This is right time to implement changes and direction into India’s policy. Though Pakistan is facing challenges from across the spectrum, its geographical location makes it difficult for the US, Russia and China to isolate or dismantle their relations, even as the war on terror continues to be a global, primary national security threat. India exercising its diplomacy by using the word ‘terror’ to isolate Pakistan from the international system has not yet yielded any expected advantage. China announced a new $43 billion partnership with Pakistan. The new president of the U.S., although favouring India, insisting us to talk with Pakistan. Has Modi not seen that our ally Russia continues to try and sell military equipment and weapons to Pakistan, even participating in military exercises together. However, India still imports 75% of her military procurements from Russia. This may be because if India was to divert some of its military purchasesto the US and Israel, it would not be well received by Russia. For this reason, Russia is emitting a warning signal to India by making a move towards Pakistan. Responding to Russia, Modi’s External Affairs Department has showed nothing but disgust, which demonstrates that the department was not functioning properly or not allowed to function.

The day in 1979 when Afghanistan was invaded by Soviet forces, was a troubling period for all South Asian nations. They all wondered, what is going on in Afghanistan? The post-US withdrawal created a vacuum for the Taliban to restart theirfundamental Islamic political movement again. Pakistan would like to undermine and dismantle India’s investment in Afghanistan by using the Taliban. An unstable Afghanistan would be a crisisfor all its neighbours. India has invested vast amounts of money and resources to create stability and security across Afghanistan.Bilaterally, New Delhi and Kabul’s realisation are very encouraging and convergent. However, the policy under Modi is not enough to support President Ashraf Ghani in combating the Taliban directly. Hesitation inestablishing and strengthening Afghani security is a weak policy and this needs to be resolved. A week ago its former President Hamid Karzai said, “India should have its own policy on Afghanistan”. This is absolutely right.The International Community acknowledges our commitment to rebuild Afghanistan, but to safe guard what we have built and established there the Modi government needs to have a separate policy in strengthening Afghanistan. This includes giving the armed forces training and knowledge of the Taliban as a terrorist organization and the weapons they use. If not, all the contribution and work carried out by India in the post-US withdrawal in Afghanistan could disappear. Moreover, failing to rethink our present strategy on Afghanistan, in particular itslax security condition and ambiguous, unclear initiatives only embolden the Taliban to take control of another city like Kunduz.

Once, Nepal was akin to a state within India. Then, Nepal became a buffer state between the two giants of India and China. Now, under the current Modi government’s strategy it has become akin to a state within China. Nepal’s failure to accommodate India’s concern over their new constitution showeddisrespect to India’s ruling elite.This caused a major rift between New Delhi and Kathmandu, and was widened by our National Security Advisor Ajit Doval’s suggestions to apply realism to Nepal. The Modi government stopped the energy supply to Nepal and this impacted their domestic politics, heavily backfiring on our relations with the nation. The result of this was Nepal being pushed to acquire its energy supply from China. As the saying goes, this indicates that Modi may have scratched his head with firewood. When a landlocked country like Nepal solely relies on us, there is never an appropriate time to suggest the application of realist approach to its government. There is no need to follow that approach, particularly when it does not take an IR scholar to know that Nepal has no other choice but to turn to its other neighbour. Who pushed Nepal into China’s lap? No one else to blame. It is absolutely the failure of Modi government. Now we cannot expect the same trust from Nepal, as they will always have China as an option.

Bangladesh shares its borders with India and Myanmar. However, China invested more than $38.05 billion into the country the last year. Investment inflow is good for Bangladesh because their other demands will be imported from India. At the same time, China’s also aims to move Bangladesh into their sphere of influence in order to gain regional leverage against India in the future. Modi’s soft corner with Prime Minister with Sheikh Hasina would be a traditional method. Reaching out to the opposition is also a good strategic trajectory and Modi should try this. The recent visit of Hasina to India after a seven year gap was proclaimed as a success from both sides. The Indian prime minister announced a $5 billion line of credit to Bangladesh. This shows that New Delhi and Dakha have moved beyond Teesta. In addition, if the Modi government makes a comfortable environment to resolve the Teesta it will strengthen Hasina’s hands in the upcoming election in Bangladesh. However, no fresh thinking has been added in terms of solutions to Teesta or containing China’s influence in Bangladesh. It indicates that the Modi government has failed in articulating new policy directions towards Dhaka.

The new government of Myanmar has taken a new policy shift after the Foreign Minister Aung Suu Kyi visited China. Her earlier objections on Chinese investments in Myanmar are now given importance and under reconsideration by her government. We can certainly presume that this is a new shift by the democratically elected government. Still, the new government has an emotional attachment with India that can be strengthened while the foreign minister visits India. However, Aung Suu Kyi’s mind may change and turn towardother neighbours for investment from abroad. Obviously China will be a better option for them than India. During 2015-16 India’s bilateral trade with Myanmar was just $2 billion and Chinese with Myanmar was $9.4 billion. China is ready to offer everything that India can not. For this reason we cannot blame Aung Suu Kyi’s change in policy stance. Now she is not a leader of a movement but Myanmar’s foreign affairs minister and the State Councillor. She has a responsibility to take care of Myanmar’s interests, not India’s. To continue historic bilateral trade agreements for the sake of old friendships would not benefit India either. Constrictive policies and follow-ups are completely missing from India towards Myanmar. Modi’s achievement in regard to India’s relations with Myanmar has been inadequate and this government has pushed Myanmar towards China. However, the consolation would be the commitment of Aung Suu Kyi – that Rangoon will never allow any third parties to target India from their land.

India gave humble warnings to the Maldivian government while it failed to consider giving afair trial to the former President Mohamed Nasheed. Further, what was India’s stance on the Maldives while the increasing activity of ISIS and Saudi Arabia’s madrasas flowed in effortlessly? How is it possible to maintain that we are the main security provider across the Indian Ocean, while the Modi government abstains to give resolutions to the island nations issues. However, the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) states are expecting from India to deliver our policy exercises and allow the democratically elected system to rule Maldives.Moreover, Modi did not visit the Maldives while he travelled to the Indian Ocean countries. It was announced that the prime minister would not be visiting the island due to the difficult situation unravelling in the Maldives. Still, India is hanging on to the old policy of non-intervention under Modi’s administration at a time when India is seeking major power status in the international system, while the world is facing multipolar disorder. This indicates that our policy is paving the way for the Chinese to intrude and spread their presence in the Indian Ocean.

India and Sri Lanka face many difficult challenges. Between Indian-Sri Lankan fishermen issue, the UN enquiry into human rights violations during the 2009 war, concerns of LTTE reestablishments, India’s concern of Chinese Investment in Sri Lanka, the debate on the new constitution, and Sri Lanka’s policy dance between India and China, it seems support to Sri Lankan in the last three years has diminished. In this environment, it would be wise to presume that Sri Lankans will move their focus towards where help and support is presented. For this reason we cannot accuse our neighbours of turning their backs, rather they have changed due to their own national interest, and China stands with their interest. Engaging with our neighbour, China’s trajectory is very clear in that it would like to hold its dominant position in the Indian Ocean. He had accused and criticised the previous Congress government, but he does not have any new policies with him or demonstrate any significant change. If Modi has guts, he should talk with strong diplomatic language to our neighbour that if Colombo’s moves hurt India’s interest, it means they are hurting themselves.

Conclusion

Our traditional ties with our neighbours are now under threat. The rising shift in focus of our neighbours towards China will not be thwarted unless a suitable strategy is applied by Indian policy makers. Not enacting a significant policy sooner has been a huge loss and major mistake. Today, our strategy indicates that our relationship with our neighbours has one major obstacle – that is they must notbe too close to China. Traditionally, it was India that provided security and support across the region. Whenever the Chinese land on our neighbour’s soil with the bequest of economic assistance and stronger diplomatic ties, our governments response is not very sharp. Hence, this has not displayed any serious diplomatic pressure on our neighbours. Moreover, Modi has no trust in his external ministry or external affairs ministerto work effectively and discharge her duties. This is the main reason he is not willing to accommodate her in his foreign visits. Modi’s foreign policy formulations are only by their government secretaries. This government’s department of external affairs issues run by a government secretary. The prime ministerstill believes in his personnel charisma in dealing with the foreign policy of India. It has considerably failed. Since he does not realise this- his government will not learn from past mistakes either. China’s perceptions are not presumed by this government. This would be observed as a large weakness of this government’s diplomatic circle. Where ever our policy is weak, without any difficulty or hesitation China has managed toland very safely. The present ‘soft power’ approach of this government would not give any strategic advantage to India’s interest with our neighbours. Like a bandwagon, our neighbouring states are ‘looking east’by standing in our hold. If this government could not make our neighbours stand at our side, then seeking major power status in the international power system under this administration would be a joke.

Antony Clement is a Senior Editor (Asia-Pacific), Modern Diplomacy an online journal. He is a researcher in Indian Foreign Policy. He consults on academic development and he is currently working on two books - “Discover your Talents” and “Diplomacy in Tough Times”. His research centres on India’s diplomacy & foreign policy and extends to domestic politics, economic policy, security issues, and international security matters, including India’s relations with the US, the BRICS nations, the EU and Australia.

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South Asia

Whether Pakistan’s membership in the IAEA Board of Governors is a major diplomatic achievement?

Sonia Naz

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Pakistan has once again been elected a member of the IAEA Board of Governors (BoG) for the next two years on September 20, 2018. The Board of Governors of the IAEA is one of its policy making organs. The BoG not only examines the financial statements, it also makes recommendations for the IAEA budget. It finalizes the membership applications, accepts safeguard agreements and contributes in the safety standard publications. The approval of Director General of the IAEA with the approval of General Conference is also the responsibility of the Board. Pakistan has been chosen 19 times to the Board in the past and has played an important role in the formulation of the agency’s policies and programmes. It also has the honor of chairing the Board thrice in 1962, 1986 and 2010.

A prominent Pakistani nuclear expert Dr. Naeem Salikin his book “Nuclear Pakistan Seeking Security and Stability” writes that Pakistan’s cooperation with the agency has been reciprocal. In other words it not only benefitted from the agency but also Pakistan’s nuclear expertise and its human resources proved to be invaluable contribution to the agency. Pakistani scientists and engineers have contributed to the IAEA work in numerous fields including in the area of nuclear safety and security. It also hosted nuclear safety and security workshops with the cooperation of IAEA on the regional level. Pakistan has been beneficiary of the IAEA assistance and its nuclear establishment is fully committed to increasing this cooperation in various fields ranging from nuclear power development to that of agriculture, medicine and livestock. Pakistan’s Country Program Framework (CPF) 2014-2019 provides assistance in the wide range of areas as nuclear safety and security, nuclear power development, industrial application, human health under the technical cooperation program of the IAEA.

Since the inception of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons it has faced allegations and hostilities which have not been faced by any other nuclear state in the world. Although, the formation of the NSG in 1974 was the result of Indian violation of peaceful use of nuclear material for military purposes but the irony is that now the founders of NSG are advocating India for the membership of NSG. China is the only state which understands that India is not the only country but Pakistan is also capable of producing highly enriched uranium and plutonium for civil and military purposes and it can easily assist developing states in advancing their nuclear infrastructures and technology. All nuclear power plants of Pakistan are under the IAEA safeguards while the US is extending exceptional treatment to India by letting it keep its eight reactors out of IAEA safeguards that are producing fissile material in large quantities, and intentionally ignoring this.

In this regard, Pakistan advocates a non-discriminatory approach towards the non-NPT nuclear weapons states for their entry into the NSG. Nevertheless, it is the prime time for Pakistan to fight its case through the IAEA as it is going to formulate policies of IAEA for future. It should also try to introduce the policies which treat all nuclear states equally because discriminatory behaviors and policies undermine the credibility of the non-proliferation regimes.

In a nutshell, Pakistan has been facing enormous amount of propaganda regarding its nuclear safety and security and the amount of literature projecting Pakistan’s perspective is inadequate and small. Therefore, it’s imperative that Pakistan projects its perspective concerning its nuclear safety and security. Pakistan has been in full compliance with the agency regime for over fifty years now. Pakistan’s cooperative and positive behavior towards the promotion of peaceful uses of nuclear technology and non-proliferation regimes requires equal treatment. Keeping in view the stringent nuclear safety and security record of Pakistan and its advanced nuclear fuel cycle capability, it should be considered eligible to be provided the nuclear fuel cycle services under the IAEA safeguards. Pakistan can make its membership in BOG a major diplomatic achievement by advocating its perspective with full determination.

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Can India Balance Between Beijing and Washington?

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On October 10, 2018, a Senior Chinese Diplomat in India underscored the need for New Delhi and Beijing to work jointly, in order to counter the policy of trade protectionism, being promoted by US President, Donald Trump.

It would be pertinent to point out, that US  had imposed tariffs estimated at 200 Billion USD in September 2018, Beijing imposed tariffs on 60 Billion USD of US imports as a retaliatory measure, and US threatened to impose further tariffs. Interestingly, US trade deficit vis-à-vis China reached 34.1 Billion USD for the month of September (in August 2018, it was 31 Billion USD). Critics of Trump point to this increasing trade deficit vis-à-vis China as a reiteration of the fact, that Trump’s economic policies are not working.

Ji Rong, Spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in India said that tariffs will be detrimental for both India and China and given the fact that both are engines of economic growth it is important for both to work together.

The Chinese diplomat’s statement came at an interesting time. US President, Donald Trump on October 2, also referred to India as ‘tariff king’. Even though the India-US strategic relationship has witnessed a significant upswing, yet the US President has repeatedly referred to India imposing high tariffs on US exports to India (specifically Harley Davidson motorcyles).

It also came days after, after India signed a deal with Russia (October 5, 2018) for the purchase of 5 S-400 Air Defence system, during the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Chinese envoy’s statement also came days before India attended the China dominated Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Significantly, India and China also began a joint training programme for Afghan Diplomats on October 15, 2018 (which would last till October 26, 2018).

Trilateral cooperation between India, China and Afghanistan was one of the main thrust areas of the Wuhan Summit, between Chinese President, Xi Jinping, and Indian PM, Narendra Modi, and this is one of the key initiatives in this direction.

There are a number of factors, which have resulted in New Delhi and Beijing seeking to reset their relationship. The first is difference between New Delhi and Washington on economic ties between the former and Iran and Russia. Washington has given mixed signals with regard to granting India exemptions from Countering America Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

US ambiguity on providing waivers to India

While sections of the US establishment, especially Jim Mattis, Defence Secretary and Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo have been fervently backing a waiver to India, there are those who oppose any sort of waiver even to India. NSA John Bolton has been warning US allies like India, that there will be no exemption or waiver from US sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sector. On October 4th, Bolton while briefing the press said:

“This is not the Obama administration … is my message to them (the importers),

Trump himself has not been clear on providing India a waiver, when asked about this issue, he said India would  know soon about the US decision (Trump has the authority to provide a Presidential waiver to India from the deal with Russia). A State Department Spokesperson also stated, that the US was carefully watching S-400 agreement with Russia, as well as India’s decision to import oil from Iran, and such steps were ‘not helpful’. With the US President being excessively transactionalist, it is tough to predict his final decision, and with growing differences between him and Mattis, one of the ardent advocates of waivers for India, it remains to be seen as to which camp will prevail.

US protectionism and New Delhi’s discomfort

Differences between Washington and New Delhi don’t end on the latter’s economic ties with Tehran and Moscow. India has on numerous occasions stated, that while strengthening strategic ties with the US, it was concerned about the Trump administration’s economic policies. This was clearly evident from the Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s speech at the SCO Meet (October 12, 2018) held at Dushanbe, Tajikistan where she pitched for an open global trading order. Said Swaraj:

“We have all benefited from globalization. We must further develop our trade and investment cooperation. We support an open, stable international trade regime based on centrality of the World Trade Organization,”

Even if one to look beyond Trump’s unpredictability, there is scope for synergies between New Delhi and Beijing in terms of economic sphere and some crucial connectivity projects.

Economic Opportunities

For long, trade has been skewed in favour of China, and this is a growing concern for India. Trade deficit between India and China has risen from 51.1 Billion USD in 2016-2017 to 62.9 Billion in 2017-2018 (a rise of over 20 percent).

The imposition of US tariffs has opened up opportunities for China importing certain commodities from India. This includes commodities like soybeans and rapeseed meal. In a seminar held at the Indian embassy in Beijing in September 2018, this issue was discussed and one on one meetings between potential importers (China) and sellers (India) was held. India urged China to remove the ban which had imposed on the import of rape meal seeds in 2011.

Connectivity and Afghanistan

Another area where there is immense scope for cooperation between India and China is big ticket connectivity projects. During his India visit, Uzbekistan President, Shavkat Mirziyoyev invited India to participate in a rail project connecting Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has welcomed this proposal, saying that this would strengthen cooperation between China and India in Afghanistan. India-China cooperation on this project is very much in sync with the China-India Plus Model proposed by China at the BRICS Summit in July 2018.

India and China can also work jointly for capacity building in Afghanistan. New Delhi has already been involved in providing assistance to Afghanistan in institution building and disaster management, and if Beijing and New Delhi join hands this could make for a fruitful partnership. The India-China joint training program for Afghan diplomats is a significant move in this direction. India and China can also look at joint scholarships to Afghan students where they can spend part of their time in China and the remaining time in India.

Both India and New Delhi for any meaningful cooperation in Afghanistan can not be risk averse, and will have to shed their hesitation. Beijing for instance has opted for a very limited ‘capacity building’ , where it will work with India in Afghanistan. While Kabul had expected that both sides will invest in a significant infrastructure project, Beijing with an eye on its ally Islamabad’s sensitivities opted for a low profile project.

Conclusion

New Delhi should not be too predictable in it’s dealings with Washington DC, and has to do a fine balancing act between Beijing and Washington DC. While on certain strategic issues are synergies between India and the US, on crucial economic and geo-political issues, there are serious differences, and India’s ties with Beijing are crucial in this context. New Delhi and Beijing should seek to expand economic ties, and the latter should give more market access to Indian goods. Apart from this, both countries should work closely on connectivity projects. If both sides build trust, the sky is the limit but it will require pragmatism from both sides. Beijing should not allow the Pakistani deep state to dictate it’s links with India (especially in the context of cooperation in Afghanistan). New Delhi on its part, should not make any one issue a sticking point in its complex but very important relationship with Beijing.

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The “Neo-Cold War” in the Indian Ocean Region

Kagusthan Ariaratnam

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Addressing an event last week at London’s Oxford University, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said some people are seeing “imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Sri Lanka. Whereas the Hambantota Port (in southern Sri Lanka) is a commercial joint venture between our Ports Authority and China Merchants – a company listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.”

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has denied US’ claims that China might build a “forward military base” at Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port which has been leased out to Beijing by Colombo. Sri Lanka failed to pay a Chinese loan of $1.4 billion and had to lease the China-developed port to Beijing for 99 years. Both New Delhi and Washington had in the past expressed concerns that Beijing could use the harbor for military purposes.

Image courtesy of Google

The USA, China, and India are the major powers playing their key role in the “Neo-Cold War” in Central Asian landmass and the strategic sea lanes of the world in the Indian Ocean where 90% of the world trade is being transported everyday including oil. It is this extension of the shadowy Cold War race that can be viewed as the reason for the recent comment made by the US Vice President Mike Pence that China is using “debt diplomacy” to expand its global footprint and Hambantota “may soon become a forward military base for China’s expanding navy”.

According to some analysts, the deep-water port, which is near a main shipping route between Asia and Europe, is likely to play a major role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

In his book “Monsoon” Robert D. Kaplan (2010), a senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security notes the following:

[…] the Indian Ocean will turn into the heart of a new geopolitical map, shifting from a unilateral world power to multilateral power cooperation. This transition is caused by the changing economic and military conditions of the USA, China and India. The Indian Ocean will play a big role in the 21st century’s confrontation for geopolitical power. The greater Indian Ocean region covers an arc of Islam, from the Sahara Desert to the Indonesian archipelago. Its western reaches include Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan — constituting a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug trafficking […]

Two third of the global maritime trade passes through a handful of relatively narrow shipping lanes, among which five geographic “chokepoints” or narrow channels that are gateway to and from Indian ocean: (1) Strait of Hormuz (2) Bab el-Mandab Passage (3) Palk Strait (4) Malacca and Singapore Straits and (5) Sunda Strait.

While Lutz Kleveman (2003), argues that the Central Asia is increasingly becoming the most important geostrategic region for the future commodities, Michael Richardson (2004) on the other hand explains that the global economy depends on the free flow of shipping through the strategic international straits, waterways, and canals in the Indian Ocean.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA)  report published in 2017, “world chokepoints for maritime transit of oil are a critical part of global energy security. About 63% of the world’s oil production moves on maritime routes. The Strait of Hormuz and the Strait of Malacca are the world’s most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit” (p.1). These channels are critically important to the world trade because so much of it passes through them. For instance, half of the world’s oil production is moved by tankers through these maritime routes. The blockage of a chokepoint, even for a day, can lead to substantial increases in total energy costs and thus these chokepoints are critical part of global energy security.  Hence, whoever control these chockpoints, waterways, and sea routes in the Indian Ocean maritime domain will reshape the region as an emerging global power.

In a recent analysis of globalization and its impact on Central Asia and Indian Ocean region, researcher Daniel Alphonsus (2015), notes that the twists and turns of political, economic and military turbulence were significant to all great players’ grand strategies:

(1) the One Belt, One Road (OBOR), China’s anticipated strategy to increase connectivity and trade between Eurasian nations, a part of which is the future Maritime Silk Road (MSR), aimed at furthering collaboration between south east Asia, Oceania and East Africa; (2) Project Mausam, India’s struggle to reconnect with its ancient trading partners along the Indian Ocean, broadly viewed as its answer to the MSR; and (3) the Indo-Pacific Economic Corridor, the USA’s effort to better connect south and south east Asian nations. (p.3)

India the superpower of the subcontinent, has long feared China’s role in building outposts around its periphery. In a recent essay, an Indian commentator Brahma Chellaney wrote that the fusion of China’s economic and military interests “risk turning Sri Lanka into India’s Cuba” – a reference to how the Soviet Union courted Fidel Castro’s Cuba right on the United States’ doorstep. Located at the Indian Ocean’s crossroads gives Sri Lanka the strategic and economic weight in both MSR and Project Mausam plans. MSR highlights Sri Lanka’s position on the east-west sea route, while Project Mausam’s aim to create an “Indian Ocean World” places Sri Lanka at the center of the twenty-first century’s defining economic, strategic and institutional frameworks. Furthermore, alongside the MSR, China is building an energy pipeline through Pakistan to secure Arabian petroleum, which is a measure intended to bypass the Indian Ocean and the Strait of Malacca altogether.

A recent study done by a panel of experts and reported by the New York Times reveal that how the power has increasingly shifted towards China from the traditional US led world order in the past five years among small nation states in the region. The critical role played by the strategic sea ports China has been building in the rims of Indian Ocean including Port of Gwadar in Pakistan, Port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Port of Kyaukpyu in Myanmar and Port of Chittagong in Bangladesh clearly validates the argument that how these small states are being used as proxies in this power projection.

This ongoing political, economic and military rivalry between these global powers who are seeking sphere of influence in one of the world’s most important geostrategic regions is the beginning of a “Neo-Cold War” that Joseph Troupe refers as the post-Soviet era geopolitical conflict resulting from the multipolar New world order.

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