Emerging economic superpowers China and India may compete here. What should be the US role?
Every day, one-quarter of world oil production flows from the Persian Gulf into the Indian Ocean toward makers of computers, sneakers, and more. Finished goods make their way back to world markets by the same body of water – the key reason that Somali piracy is a top concern. But lost in that focus on trade is a bigger issue: the strategic realities that will reshape the balance of power in the Indian Ocean in this century.
China and India, the world's two most populous nations as well as economic rivals with a tetchy relationship, are expanding their navies as their economies grow. Though the United States has ruled the Indian Ocean since World War II, US ships will have to negotiate more crowded waters as the emerging economic superpowers jostle for influence.
Are China's military interests in the Indian Ocean a threat to the US?
US Air Force Lt. Col. Christopher Pehrson called China's military strategy in the area the "String of Pearls," defining it as a "manifestation of China's rising geopolitical influence through efforts to increase access to ports and airfields, develop special diplomatic relationships, and modernize military forces."
He wrote in 2006 that "a question posed by the 'String of Pearls' is the uncertainty of whether China's growing influence is in accordance with Beijing's stated policy of 'peaceful development,' or if China one day will make a bid for regional primacy."
That question is being weighed by strategic thinkers in the US and elsewhere. In 2008, China boosted defense spending to $60 billion – nearly 20 percent.
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