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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.

Kagusthan Ariaratnam is a multi-skilled security, defense, intelligence, and counterterrorism analyst with over 25 years of experience. He currently works as a research analyst at The 05 File Project Foundation. Kagusthan can be reached by email at Kagusthan[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

New Government in Bangladesh: Implications for China-Bangladesh Relations

Noor Mohammad Sarker

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The People’s Republic of China is one of the earliest countries to congratulate Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her landslide victory by securing two-third majority in the 11th National Parliamentary Election in Bangladesh, held on December 30, 2018. Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka, Zhang Zuo, and his team paid an official visit to the Prime Minister’s Office, Ganabhaban, on December 31, 2018, to hand over the congratulatory messages to the newly elected Prime Minister from Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang. This official message denotes China’s continuous support to Bangladesh as well as the potency of their bilateral strategic partnership at the dawn of the twenty-first century.

Over the years, especially since 1990s, China has emerged as a cooperative and reliable partner for Bangladesh in the economic development and national security build-up of the latter. Under the constant rule of Sheikh Hasina and her party, Bangladesh Awami League, in Bangladesh since 2009, the relationship has turned into a comprehensive strategic partnership.

In terms of trade, China, at this moment, stands as the largest trading partner for Bangladesh with more than $10 billion of bilateral trade volume. According to the reports provided by the Export Promotion Bureau of Bangladesh, the amount of country’s total export to China was $808.14 million in the fiscal year 2015-16, compared to the amount of $319.66 million in 2010-11. At the same time, China’s export to Bangladesh in 2015-16 was worth about $9.8 billion, compared to the amount of $5.9 billion in 2010-11. Economists have predicted that, if the current rate continues like this, the bilateral trade volume would reach up to $18 billion in 2021, when Bangladesh will be celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Throughout the last decade, Bangladesh has developed an outstanding political relationship with China as well. For example, when Chinese President Xi Jinping’s paid an official visit to Dhaka in October 2016, Bangladesh received him with the highest official greetings ever. It was the first visit by any Chinese head of the state to Bangladesh in 30 years, which is considered as the biggest diplomatic milestone to their bilateral relationship.

During this visit, both countries signed 27 deals and memorandum of understanding (MoUs) worth an amount of $13.6 billion in trade and investment sectors. President Xi has also offered $23 billion loan to Bangladesh for supporting some large-scale infrastructure projects. Prior to that, in May 2014, the China Major Bridge Engineering Company (CMBEC) was awarded for the construction of Padma Bridge, the biggest ever infrastructural project in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has been an official partner of China-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) since 2016. The country is one of the founding members of the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) as well. Geographically, Bangladesh is a part of both overland and maritime routes of BRI. It is a member of Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM-EC) initiative, which focuses on the revival of the Southern Silk Road under BRI by physically connecting the landlocked provinces of Southern China to the Bay of Bengal. On the other hand, the Chattogram sea-port and its adjacent maritime area of Bangladesh have been an integral part of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The country has, in fact, received the second highest amount of funding from BRI project in South Asian region, after Pakistan.

Apart from these developments, China has also emerged as a strategic security partner for Bangladesh in South Asia over the last decade. In the period of 2011-2015, for example, Bangladesh became the second highest importer of military equipments from China. In order to strengthen the capacity of Bangladesh Navy under the current regime of PM Sheikh Hasian, Bangladesh purchased two submarines from China, named BNS Nabajatra and Joyjatra, both delivered in 2016. Bangladesh also purchased six surface ships from China in between 2009 and 2015, which include two patrol boats with modest anti-surface and anti-submarine capabilities. These technological supports and upgraded equipments from China have enabled Bangladesh Navy to be emerged as a “blue-water” defense force for protecting country’s maritime area.

In terms of education and cultural exchanges, both China and Bangladesh have further developed their cooperation during this period. Several Chinese language institutes have been established, by far, in both public and private universities of Bangladesh. The number of Bangladeshi students studying in China has also been increased significantly with the help of growing number of scholarships from the Chinese government.

Hence, as per the expectations from both sides, the extension of Sheikh Hasina’s government for the third time will contribute to further boost up this bilateral cooperation. China believes that, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh will be able to fulfill its “Vision 2021” and, thereby, to become a middle income country by 2021, which would create further opportunities for the promotion of China-Bangladesh friendship in the upcoming days.

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Will Pakistan go to IMF finally?

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International Monetary Fund (IMF) was created just after World War II (WWII) in 1945. It was the time of re-organization of the world order after massive destruction of WWII. UN and its organizations were establishing and whole world was passing through reforms. The IMF is an organization of 189 countries, working to foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world.

The beneficiary of WWII was US, and emerged as leader of World. IMF and World Bank like other UN and International organizations were depending on US funding to some extend and US has been utilizing in expand its economic, political and military influence around the world, frequently. US was involved in appointing head of such organizations directly or indirectly.  I leave it to my readers to judge that if IMF and other organizations have achieved its objectives or not?

Pakistan have been knocking doors of IMF since 1958, and it has been 21 agreement with IMF. Generally, IMF provides loans at very low interest rates, and provides programmes of better governance and monitoring too. But for last 6 decades, Pakistan has suffered a lot, in term of good governance. Especially last 2 decades, corruption, nepotism, poor planning, bribery, weakening of institution, de-moralization of society, etc were witnessed. We may not blame IMF for all such evils, but must complain that IMF failed to deliver, what was expected. Of course, it is our country, we are responsible for all evils, and wrong doings happened to us. We have to act smartly and should have made right decision and on right times.

In fact, beneficiary of corruption, is west, and in some of the cases, west has inspired or protected the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats in the developing nation and Pakistan is no exception to it. At least, IMF failed to monitor the utilization of funds provided.

IMF also dictates its terms and condition or programmes like: devaluation of local currencies, which causes inflation and hike in prices, cut or draw-back of subsidies on basic utilities like fuel, gas, electricity etc, which causes cost of life rather higher for local people, cut on development expenditures like education, health, infrastructure, and social development etc, which pushes the country backward.

Pakistan was no exception to it in the history of our relations with IMF. Last couple of decades, we could not develop our infrastructure, as a result we are back ward and could not take off economically, could not built Dams and suffering from Power shortage and water crisis, Education, health and social sector was ignored and pushed us rather backward.

In past, whenever we approached IMF, US administration was favoring us, but this time, it was witnessed that US may create hurdles or resistance in the form of additional conditions etc.

Based on experience of 6 decades, Government of Pakistan (GoP) have to make decision, weather to go to IMF or not? It is very serious issue and very sensitive decision. GoP is very serious and in close consultations with various experts from within the government and out side the government. There is a group in Pakistan, lobbying for IMF, as it is cheapest and more structured. Pro-IMF lobbies are more close to PM Imran Khan. While, there are experts who are against IMF and feels in past, if IMF was not helpful for Pakistan, then why to go again for the same tested organization. It is worth mentioning that, Pakistan is a diversified nation, and freedom of expression is ensured by constitution of Pakistan, so many controversial opinions are expected – we enjoy the highest degree of freedom. .

In past, politicians were rather easy to coerce and IMF was successful in their missions. But, today, Pakistan is in safe hands and current leadership is honest, loyal and sincere with Pakistan. The PM Imran Khan is a strong man and will take decision based on principles in the best interest of nation.  Sources close to him, feels that till date he is not convince yet, but will take a firm decision soon. His decision will be based on expert advice, national interest and purely merit-based.

However, all other option may be explored and taped, like friendly nations have already extended a hand of financial assistance. Like Saudi Arabia, Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, Malaysia and China. Which has lessen the need of going to IMF to a great extent. It will provide an edge to Pakistan, while negotiating with IMF.

Whatever will be his decision, people of Pakistan trust him and will stand behind him. His decision will be considered the decision of 220 million of Pakistan. Pakistan has a history of “No Default” in last 7 decades to any one of our international obligation or agreement. Pakistan is a civilized, disciplined and matured & resilient nation. We have passed many harsh tests, in last 4 decades and learnt many lessons.

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South Asia

Pakistan Securing Its Maritime Interest and CPEC

Qura tul ain Hafeez

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The IOR is a major sea route that unites the Middle East, Africa, and East Asia with Europe and America. The excessive economic growth of littoral states of Indian Ocean obliges them to protect their energy needs and interests in order to endure their purchasing power. This has great security implications for the sea line of communication of the littoral states of IOR like Pakistan.

Continuing to Pakistan’s interests in IOR the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has great potential to transmute Pakistan into a central trade platform, which would undeniably gushed the enemies, particularly India, to halt it. The development of Gwadar sea-ports as part of BRI in general  and that of CPEC in particular has amplified India’s concerns’ and aimed for more sophisticated and advanced naval build-up. Furthermore, India perceives the Gawadar port (that is considered as crown jewel of CPEC) as a hazard to its contesting interests in Central Asia countries.  The reason being, India can access Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asian Republics (CARs) only through Cahabahar by passing Pakistan and Gawadar  a deep water sea port that is easily accessible to these land locked states then Chahabahr. A couple of days back on 24th December 2018 India has formally over taken the operational control of Iran’s Cahabahar port – only (0 Km away from Gawadar port. India’s aspirations to become blue water navy in the IOR raise serious concerns among Pakistan’s maritime security. CPEC would lead toward increased maritime politics and contestations not only between Pakistan and India but would also involve China and US.

In such turbulent circumstances Pakistan is required to prepare its sea based defense to secure its sea lines.   Islamabad needs to carefully evaluate its options and develop its strategic response accordingly, involving but not limited to continuous development of its naval capability and an even closer maritime cooperation with China. In view of the prevailing power dynamics in Indian Ocean Pakistan Navyin order to secure its interest in IOR inked a contract with China’s State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC)in June 2018 for two, Type 054AP frigates. The agreement is an extension of a previously signed agreement in 2017. Recently on December 19, 2018 steel-cutting ceremony for the second Type 054A frigate for the Pakistan Navy was held at the Hudong-Zhonghua shipyard in Shanghai. The type 054 AP warship frigates will be equipped with modern detection-state of art sensor and Guided Missiles weapon systems; capable of anti-ship, anti-submarine and air-defense operations. According to the report of China Daily report added that the “Type 054A is the best frigate in service with the PLAN”.

It is pertinent to mention here that maritime security is linked with the Economic security and vice versa. Gawader port is one of the most important projects of the CPEC where Pakistan and China are very hopeful that in future this shipping port will generate the revenue for Pakistan’s economy.  There is a big chunk of fishery industry through which Pakistan can earn a lot. It will stimulate business and trade activities at state level and across the region.  The 054 AP frigates ““Will be one of the largest and most technologically advanced platforms of the Pakistani Navy and strengthen the country’s capability to respond to future challenges, maintain peace and stability and the balance of power in the Indian Ocean region” a report on 2nd January 2019 released by  Chinese state owned media said.

In some, to deal with all these existing defies Pakistan Navy (PN) has espoused to a multi divided line of action for safeguarding the port in more effective manners. It conducts security patrolling h and coastal exercises from time to time. Furthermore, previously in 2013 it has inaugurated its Joint Maritime Information Coordination Center (JMICC) in Karachi to provide with an effective mechanism of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).  After receiving these 054 AP frigates warship Pakistan will definitely in far more better position to counter India’s vested interests in Indian Ocean region. It will also help secure the Gwadar port which is the chief component of Pakistan maritime trade activities. China has always been an al weather strategic partner of Pakistan. Although India always tries to propagate that CPEC is military agreement instead of an economic one however, securing the economic interests with an advanced mechanism does not mean at all that it’s planning something militarily. Pakistan has always adopted a defensive policy and it is the right of every sovereign state to secure its interests even if they are economic as there is no morality in international politics, still CPEC is an economic project which welcomes every state of the region for economic cooperation  even if it is India as well.

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