The String of Pearls
Over the past few years, India has been locked into a soft-war with China ever since it announced the building of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor that was to be built in Pakistan as a segment of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Ever since, India has been objecting the project and has furthermore amassed international support against China’s sleezy attempts to gain territorial control over areas outside their country’s jurisdiction. And what China is doing, is actually troubling.
China has long been a country that has been hungry for expanding its territory by any means possible, and this fact has always been reinforced by the disputes that take place on a regular basis in the South China Sea. And given its current influence over Nepalese politics and its breach of the LAC in the Galwan Valley; its voraciousness for territorial control isn’t stopping anytime soon.
Under the guise of the Belt and Road Initiative, China has long been spreading its influence over the world, from African countries like Kenya and Djibouti, to European countries like Italy to Asian countries like Singapore, Bangladesh, Tajikistan and particularly Pakistan.
It has been allowed to build infrastructural projects in these countries, since they have been providing interest free loans and waivers to these debt-strapped countries. The availability of cheap credit was enough for these countries, since they were already backward and debt laden, with these loans acting as credit injections into the economy prompted by the construction of infrastructural projects which is helping them to improve trade and commerce related activities, as well as intra state migration for their citizens.
This move has been nicknamed by many countries as Debt-Trap Diplomacy. If the countries aren’t able to pay back the principal amounts within the time frame that had been negotiated, China muscles them to give up control over certain parts of their territories by having them leased for their own personal use. This exact case had happened with Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port, which China had leased for the next 99 years after Sri Lanka was unable to pay back debts amounting to $1 billion.
In Pakistan, China has played its cards well enough, since it is now in charge of the construction of the Gwadar Port and the entire transportation network connecting it to its own base in the North, which passes through the region of Gilgit-Baluchistan, which India claims is disputed territory, and accusing China of violating the territorial norms.
Howsoever, the existence of the Gwadar Port enables China to procure its goods and freight by cutting the commute to its earlier port on its mainland, and saving a third of the shipping and weight costs. Furthermore, it provides China access to the territory near the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean to a large extent, enabling it to overcome the troublesome region of the Straits of Malacca in the South China Sea.
The Straits of Malacca in the South China Sea is an important factor for China having control over that particular region, because ships that carried freight and goods bound for China had to pass through them, and thus come into close contact with the neighbouring countries like that of Taiwan, which is quite disdainful towards China muscling it for gaining control disputed territory in that particular region.
China has also amassed its influence over countries like Djibouti and Mauritius, that act like outward posts for all of their naval activities. Since Djibouti has now been the new strategic horn of Africa due to being in close proximity of the Suez Canal, China has established their first international military base in Djibouti by providing them the same promises that had provided other countries in Africa to spread their influence.
Furthermore, they have used a similar approach to establish their dominance around the Mauritian region, and have been allowed access to a string of islands for minimal costs which have been used for the training of its own police form required to maintain law and order.
It has also established its influence in the region of South East Asia, whereby it has facilitated the construction of railway networks in countries like Bangladesh and those of Thailand and Singapore. Singapore’s former President Mahathir Mohammad had cancelled $2 billion projects, stating that these projects will not provide for anything and act as a pocket through which Singapore’s wealth could flow out of.
Regardless, China has gained quite some control in majority of the areas, thereby successfully encapsulating India by using the ports and junctions as control points across the Indian Ocean. It is this move that has been termed by Indian defence analysts as The String of Pearls.
Looking at such a condition, it does seem to harm India with regards to her commercial and security interests. Since it has long been labelled as a territorial buffer against Chinese cultural and territorial influence in the continent, it has received support from countries that are interested in counteracting this Chinese influence across the subcontinent.
As a result, India has partnered up with USA, Australia and Japan to counteract this Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean, under the name of a pact that has since been termed as India-USA-Japan-Australia Quadrilateral which aims at curbing Chinese influence in the continent by holding military drills and patrols in the Indian Ocean. Since India and USA are the closest in proximity with respect to their naval regions (Diego Garcia for the US), the majority of the burden will lie on these two countries, with Australia and Japan providing secondary support and reinforcements as per the situation’s requirements.
All of these countermeasures certainly act like a countermeasure against Chinese influence in the world, and given the current dislike and criticism it has been facing due to the Coronavirus has acted as a nail in its own coffin, reversing the influence they held over all of those countries and themselves destroying the narrative of events that had been put into motion in the first place.
Regardless of this, we cannot expect The Dragon to keep its head bowed down, for since they have always been notoriously difficult to comprehend, analyse and negotiate with. Their soft skills in the areas of secrecy and motive have always been unmatched, since their form a government helps them in this drive to assert their dominance over the entire world.
Furthermore, their plan of controlling India’s influence through a string of ports and loading bases isn’t all it seems, since any move the Chinese make has always multiple prongs with several contingencies which are not always decipherable. It shall be interesting to see the future narrative of events that will take place regarding China’s approach towards maintaining and spreading their power and influence over the world, and to see how this coalition works together in harmony to combat this situation.