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The Great Power struggle in the Indian Ocean Author : Shubham Bansal
The Great Power struggle in the Indian Ocean
By Shubham Bansal
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Finally India has woken up from its slumber, only to find out that without quick efforts, it will be outrun in its own backyard. India has woken up to find itself strangled in the Indian Ocean on the account of China's increasing influence in the region. Mr Narendra Modi, Indian PM visited Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka recently on a five day tour. Here we will see why this visit makes sense.

Indian Ocean is a key region for the Asian countries with regards to the wartime strategy and stealth movement. The Indian Ocean trade routes passes through several small islands and countries and needless to say, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Malaysia are important point on the trade route. Any kind of major trade in the Indian Ocean passes through these countries.

The last Indian PM who visited Seychelles was Indira Gandhi in 1981. Hu Jintao, the Chinese Premier visited Seychelles in 2007. The last Indian PM to go to Sri Lanka was again Indira in 1981., whereas Xi Jinping, current President visited the Lankans in 2014. This shows the stark contrast in the activism of the Chinese.

In 2011, Seychelles had offered China its harbor for refueling and docking of Chinese warships stationed in the Gulf of Aden for anti-piracy operations. India was alarmed naturally but Beijing tried to re-addresss it by saying the station was only for refueling and not military operations. Infrastructure projects and ports in these countries showed the desire of China to re-affirm their control on this route.

China has helped built Sri Lanka's Hambantota and Pakistan's Gwadar port. China not only wants to control maritime power but also extinguish its energy needs by controlling small islands, and thereby reducing its dependence on Strait of Malacca. China's oil flow route in the Indian Ocean clearly shows the importance of this region.

It is this kind of strategy that India needs to be mindful of and thus India announced the establishment of military radar coastal station in Seychelles to not only keep a watch on pirates but also monitor Chinese activity. In the name of boosting its economic activities, China has geared up in the region militarily because it has sensed that in case of a stand-off against the two countries currently active in the region, India and the US, China's energy imports will be hurt.

In Mauritius, India commissioned an India-built coast guard patrol vessel, Ship Barracuda which indeed shows India's commitment towards maritime co-operation and vigilance. Also the infrastructural pacts in the countries means India can develop militarily-important infrastructure.

Sri Lanka, out of all the others is the most important. The country has a minority of Tamils and any trouble there seem to fan fires back here in India. SRL ports transship more goods than any other Indian port. Also it was believed that Sri Lanka was inching closer to India's traditional rivals China and Pakistan. The recently-defeated President Rajapakse of SRL believes that R&AW and New Delhi had a part to play in his loss and Sirisena's win. Chinese submarines are often docked in Colombo.

While Rajapaksa was inclined towards China and offered them their ports and coast, which could hurt India anytime, Sirisena believes Lanka's No. 1 partner is India. The infrastructural developments in Sri Lanka, just like in Nepal and Bhutan, by China can be exploited anytime during an armed conflict against India.

It is clear that even if the amount of trade with the above countries may not be great, but these are the main points on a trade route essential to the whole of Asia, specifically India and China. India has suddenly found itself in "strings of pearls" around its neck in the Indian Ocean, and the bond of ocean seems to be the new bond that will bring the member countries closer in 21st century.

To add to the above mumble jumble, cancellation of Chinese infrastructural project in Sri Lanka by the Sri Lankan government signifies shifting loyalties and another set of equation in the ensuing power game.


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