In recent years, China has expanded port facilities in countries that border India, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Burma. Indian strategists refer to the projects as a “string of pearls” encircling India in its strategic back yard.
Dr. Ghosh points out that the ports are commercial structures, not designed to be naval bases. But, he adds, “if a push comes to a shove, they can definitely use it for a base.”
The Indian Ocean will only grow in importance for both India and China as their interconnectivity with the global economy grows. The Indian Ocean is the Silk Road of the 21st century, moving Gulf oil and African minerals to the world’s two most populous nations.
The securing of the sea lanes – once the province of Great Britain, then the US – could evolve cooperatively, rather than competitively, to include India and China. Indeed, both countries have participated in a global effort to protect ships from pirates off Somalia.
But for India to realize its ambition to be able to project its Navy over a distance to secure economic access abroad, it will need access first to regional ports – some of which are now under Chinese expansion.