Port Wings, 21 Nov 2018:
For the Asian giants, access to and consolidation in Indian Ocean is not only important, but a necessity to remain vigil on many fronts.
In this context, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Maldives on 17 November to participate in the inauguration of the new Presidency is a clear message sent out to regional players that New Delhi will not tolerate some other country dominating the Indian Ocean.
Besides, Modi’s visit is a most welcome and a step in the right direction. But coming after over three years of the earlier cancelled visit of 2015, a lot of ground will now have to be covered and without any further time to lose.
After becoming the number one trading partner of Africa, China in 2015 had emphasized that it would seize the strategic initiative to effectively secure its overseas interests. Following that declaration, Africa seen heavy investments by China under Maritime Silk Route along with CPEC.
Simultaneously development of the ports by China at Djibouti, Gwadar (Pakistan) and Hambantota (Sri Lanka) virtually completes a secure triangle around the Arabian Sea and a strategic positioning on the access routes to the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.
Besides, Chinese plans of developing Maldives’ Ihavandhoo as a deep sea port. This location would virtually stand guard on the seven-degree channel, the main navigational route from China and South East Asia for Europe and Gulf and carrying about $ 18 trillion in terms of annual trade.
Furthermore, an agreement has been signed with Myanmar by China very recently for construction of a multibillion-dollar port at Kyaukpyu, in the Rakhine state not far from Bangladesh. This Kyaukpyu special economic zone, where an oil pipeline terminal with direct access to China is coming up will be ultimately linked by rail/road to Kunming and provide access to Bay of Bengal on the same pattern as Gwadar does to the Arabian Sea.
On the other hand, the Chinese plan of developing Sonadia into a port was cancelled by Bangladesh in 2017, but now they are showing their keenness on Payra port. This port in Bangladesh along with Kyaukpyu in Myanmar would be important locations on the proposed Maritime Silk Route.
Under the changed strategic security scenario, the great game of controlling Indian Ocean seems to be going the Chinese way as of now, as they can claim legitimate access to Bay of Bengal as also to the Arabian Sea.
While Chabahar and Vietnam are steps in the right direction, the Bay of Bengal remains of utmost concern for India. In the long run, it has to be left to Indian diplomats and the political executive supported by armed forces to create a strong and favorable geopolitical environment in the neighbourhood and the Indian Ocean region.