Editors Notes: The “string of pearls” geo-strategy pursuit by competing nations is destine to become a ring of fire.
Source: Colombo Telegraph
Since the end of the 25-year-old Eelam civil war, Sri Lanka has entered into another increasingly treacherous conflict – an as-yet subtle but emerging one between the United States and China to secure the flow of Persian Gulf energy resources and free trade in the Indian Ocean. The 21st century forces of global realities are not purely geopolitics but surely geoeconomics. When Sri Lanka drifted towards Beijing as China’s “string of pearls” naval strategy gained momentum, challenges to American hegemony in south Asia escalated as if Washington and Beijing were in direct competition with each other under the shadow of New Delhi. The new American “re-charting” strategy tries to prevent further deterioration of US security interests in the island and to secure the balance of power in south Asia.
The Crown Jewel of the String of Pearls
The strategically-located Sri Lanka is advantageously positioned within the international east-west shipping route in the Indian Ocean. Over 85% of China’s energy imports from west Asia and mineral resources from Africa transit through Sri Lanka and other “string of pearls” ports.
As part of its new Silk Road network, Beijing seeks to protect them as strategic economic arteries anchored all the way from Persian Gulf and African waters to the South China Sea. Colonel Christopher Pehrson at the US Army War College described this elaborate network as
the manifestation of China’s rising geopolitical influence through efforts to increase access to ports and airfields, develop special diplomatic relationships, and modernize military forces that extend from the South China Sea through the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and on to the Arabian Gulf.14
To meet increasing demand for resources and to secure their maritime trade routes through the Indian Ocean, China has either built or reportedly planned to construct vital facilities in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Thailand. China’s comprehensive “string of pearls” naval strategy includes:15
• A planned oil refinery terminal at Chittagong in Bangladesh, the northern Bay of Bengal located just east of India;
• The reported establishment of a naval base and intelligence surveillance station at Sittwe in Myanmar and in nearby
islands on the Bay of Bengal;
• The reported building of a surveillance base on Marao Island in the Maldives, just north of the British military base leased to US armed forces on the island of Diego Garcia;
• The construction of a billion-dollar deepwater port at Gwadar in Baluchistan province of Pakistan on the Arabian Sea coast close to Iran and the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, which will be used as a pipeline terminal to transport crude oil and natural gas from the Persian Gulf to China’s western hinterland and Xingjian; and
• The present construction of a billion dollar all-inclusive deepwater sea port at Hambantota in Sri Lanka.
In addition to these projects, China has reportedly been exploring the expansion and establishment of other facilities at eastern and western maritime choking ports of the Indian Ocean – the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea as well as the Strait of Malacca – to address growing piracy issues, especially around Somalia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.17
The US has viewed China’s “string of pearls” strategy not only as a balance of power issue but also as a show of force in the Indian Ocean. Perceived threats made India and Sri Lanka equally nervous. With Delhi’s leadership, Indian ships and nuclear-powered US ships participated in a naval exercise alongside Australian, Japanese, and Singaporean ships in the Bay of Bengal in 2007. Moreover, America’s involvement in Afghanistan (and increasingly in Pakistan) and the central Asian republics as well as security and military ties to south-east Asian countries (like Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam) and north-east Asian countries (South Korea, Japan and Taiwan) is more than an emblematic challenge to China’s pronounced “Peaceful Rising” foreign policy. Chinese leaders – especially military officials – feel that the US has encircled them geostrategically with US military bases and is selling advanced weapons to countries like Taiwan (a renegade republic in the Chinese perspective). The construction of a nuclear submarine base on the southern Chinese island of Hainan (where an American spy-plane was forced to land in 2002) is another tactical response to project its growing power and protecting the sea routes.
Read More: Colombo Telegraph