The Indian Ocean Region (IOR),dubbed as the 21stcentury’s “pecuniary cauldron” has emerged to be the modern competitive zone for existing and emerging powers of the world. The global power patterns at present remain in the transformational stage. However, in the past the international community has seen spectrum of power shifting from bipolar to unipolar whereas at the present junction, the growing expectations are of a clash within materializing multipolarity. John Mearsheimer, renowned international relations scholar, deduces that in a multipolar world order there are greater likelihood for war, particularly when states in order to address “security dilemma” practice the offensive realpolitik approach.
Great power states are espying their futures in the high waters of the Indian Ocean that is third largest on the world map and is heavily packed with eccentric sea resources. India and China considering their geographical proximity remain the elitist contenders that are striving hard for the steering. The United States (US) remains a key player in the emerging scenario with the “Pivot towards Asia” gaining an exponential credibility under the Trump administration that looks towards the region under the broadly coined term “Indo-Pacific”. It also signifies the strategic interest of the Americans, underlying that US is not ready to compromise on both ends. The policy of bandwagon with potential allies allows the “sole superpower” in wake of its declining power and influence to remain “hand-dipped” and relevant in the waters of the Indian Ocean. The years after British departure, US strengthened its footsteps in IOR by inheriting the Diego Garcia island base. At present, it continues to back India to contain China’s “peaceful rise”. The activities are supported by the Fifth Fleet which continues to rest beside the major choke points. The fleet has substantial presence near the Red Sea located at the closure of Bad-el-Mandab Strait. The naval convoys have long provided US the operational easiness since the Second World War against its potential foes. The fleet has since then with an intermission in its presence has extended its diameter to the Indian Ocean in the post-Cold war period.
The region holds overriding significance for China, whose staunch presence provides it with the prospect to pursue its economic and political interests in the South China Sea. It relies on ‘The Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC)’for the essential energy consumption. The approximate of 80 percent of its oil requirement is fulfilled through these lanes from Middle East. In this ongoing setting, any blockade of Malacca and Hormuz Strait is almost exorbitant to the Chinese economy that is aiming to surpass the US economy in times to come. The oil-rich Middle East transports its petro-minerals via the Indian Ocean routes to the East and West. Any disruption in these communication lines can lead to economic collapses of major power relations, analogous to what was witnessed during the First and Second World War. Indian Ocean stores immense amount of resources in the form of islands, bays and straits in the waters and on the bordering regions whose control will remain reason for perpetual conflict. The Bay of Bengal holds in it range of fossil fuels and hydrocarbons. Andaman and Nicobar Islands located in the bay’s premises are militarized by India.It has stationed its special naval forces in the demesne and aims to increase the patrolling networks in the region. India and China are contradicting each other with the apophthegm‘enemy of your enemy is your friend’. Beijing coupled with Pakistan considering it as the classical rival to India whereas India openly sides with the US. With the ‘Look East Policy’, Delhi has gained new allies, most of whom are China’s adversaries in the troubled waters of the South China Sea that are prescribed to react to the ‘Strings of Pearls’.
Chinese enlargement in Gwadar via the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project with Pakistan, has made its economic presence firm and permanent in the area. The country has rendered a foreign policy as sympathizer to the developing states but Indian analyst describe is as a curtain of its goodwill knitted by China under the aim to grow its military control all across Indian Ocean borders. The Indian Ocean allows China to achieve its long-term goals to sustain immense fiscal growth, providing it a stronger position to deter enemies and contenders alike. The Omni presence of Beijing has raised inquisitive period in the international arena about the new potentials of Xi’s administration. Will the Indian Ocean become another South China Sea and is an escalation likely, is an interesting question.US being not a direct participatory in region, has allowed India and China to exercise more openly in a region that is home to three nuclear powers.
Like always, there is uncertainty in what lies ahead in international relations. The ‘peaceful rise of China’, which can be labeled as the US equivalent to a ‘new world order’ seems to tackle the situation with diligence by providing a win-win situation to all parties. It also depends largely on the US and India, as to how far they are willing to push China, that could in the near future to influence the regional and international geopolitical setting. The economies of the People’s Republic of China and India are flourishing day by day whereas the US economy remains contracted with the domestic and international opposition to the President Trump’s economic vision. Yet, the economy of US remains at-least two fold greater than that of Beijing. However, the “Red Regan” is swiftly catching up and can fill the void in the decades to come. The puzzle considering the present geopolitical complexions remains uncertain as to which of the power would gain supremacy in the maritime space of the Indian Ocean. International law gives freedom of navigation in the international waters under the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) 1982. However, with the speculation of historical evidences, international law could never have an eminent effect on the realist power maximization intentions of states.