China’s Mar­itime Strat­egy for South Asia

The idea of Mar­itime Silk Road was to in­crease mar­itime co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and the ASEAN coun­tries and would in­volve diplo­macy and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment


IN ThE RE­CENT pAST Chi­naÕs mar­itime strat­egy was based on a net­work of ports in relation to its sea lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion ( SLOC) which was re­ferred to as, ÔThe String of pearlsÕ. This name orig­i­nated from a US Gov­ern­ment re­port on en­ergy and is now com­monly used in In­dia to re­fer to Chi­naÕs grand mar­itime de­sign to en­cir­cle In­dia. how­ever, this is ve­he­mently de­nied by China in ev­ery rel­e­vant fo­rum in­clud­ing in the re­cent sem­i­nar con­ducted by the Na­tional Mar­itime Foun­da­tion on ÒE­volv­ing Dy­nam­ics of the In­dian OceanÓ. China has clar­i­fied that this net­work from port Su­dan to Main­land China is only to guard their com­mer­cial and en­ergy in­ter­ests but this state­ment is ques­tioned by many as the net­work also in­cludes build­ing of naval in­fra­struc­ture. No doubt that Chi­nese SLOC runs through many choke points like the Straits of Man­deb, Malacca, hor­muz and the Lom­bok Strait, some of be­ing in­fested with ter­ror­ists and pi­rates. In­dia gets touchy as the net­work in­cludes pak­istan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Mal­dives and So­ma­lia which lit­er­ally en­cir­cles and brings closer Chi­naÕs mar­itime might.

There is also a buzz go­ing around the con­cept of ÒMar­itime Silk RoadÓ which first emerged dur­ing an ad­dress to the In­done­sian par­lia­ment by pres­i­dent Xi Jin­pingÕs in Oc­to­ber 2013. The idea of Mar­itime Silk Road was to in­crease mari- time co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and the ASEAN coun­tries and would in­volve diplo­macy and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

The String of Pearls

The String of pearls con­cept is a di­rect re­sult of Chi­naÕs stu­pen­dous eco­nomic growth and re­quire­ment of en­ergy to sus­tain this growth. To sus­tain the mo­men­tum of its eco­nomic growth, China is in­creas­ing its geopo­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence to all re­gions of its in­ter­est to ac­cess ports and air­fields, mod­ernise its mil­i­tary power to match its global in­ter­ests and in­cul­cate stronger diplo­matic re­la­tions with its trad­ing part­ners and al­lies. China has his­tory of ex­pand­ing its mar­itime in­flu­ence. In the re­cent past start­ing with the South China

Sea in the 1970s, it has pro­gressed to East China Sea, Near Sea around Ja­pan and Western Pa­cific re­gion, North Pa­cific Ocean and the In­dian Ocean. It is also in­creas­ing its mar­itime power by ac­quir­ing su­pe­rior op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity, ac­quir­ing tools for strate­gic de­ter­rence, de­vel­op­ing counter-at­tack ca­pa­bil­ity, plan­ning for Anti-Ac­cess/ An­tiDe­nial ca­pa­bil­ity, etc. The Chi­nese Gov­ern­ment in­sists that its mar­itime ex­pan­sion is purely for peace­ful pur­poses and pro­tec­tion of its trade. how­ever, coun­tries like In­dia, Ja­pan and Viet­nam who have ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes with China, see red when for­eign ports near them are be­ing de­vel­oped by China and are not con­vinced that they are purely for com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions. Ex­am­ples are ports around In­dia like Gwadar in pak­istan, Colombo and ham­ban­tota in Sri Lanka, Chit­tagong in Bangladesh and ports/naval fa­cil­i­ties in My­na­mar which are ob­vi­ously meant to con­tain In­dia.


Gwadar Port. Gwadar is strate­gi­cally lo­cated be­tween three im­por­tant re­gions of the world to in­clude oil-rich Western Asia (lo­cated on the Gulf of Oman and close to the mouth of the per­sian Gulf), heav­ily pop­u­lated South Asia and the eco­nom­i­cally emerg­ing and re­source-rich Cen­tral Asia. The deep-sea Gwadar port is seen as a re­gional hub, serv­ing com­mer­cial traf­fic to and from Cen­tral Asian states and Afghanistan, the Mid­dle East, the per­sian Gulf, Xin­jiang, Iran and South East Asia. A road from Gwadar to Sain­dak gives the land­locked Cen­tral Asia easy ac­cess to the sea for shipping their oil and gas re­serves to the global mar­kets. Cen­tral Asian republics are blessed with min­eral wealth and trained man­power. China also ben­e­fits as the port re­duces the over­land dis­tance by about 50 per cent from its land­locked western prov­inces to the sea thus can be used as its port of en­try to sup­ply en­ergy for th­ese re­gions. Gwadar port is another project which re­in­forces pak­istan and Chi­naÕs friend­ship which is con­sid­ered higher than hi­malayas, deeper than In­dian Ocean and sweeter than honey.

China Con­nec­tion. pak­istan and China had signed an agree­ment on March 16, 2002, at Beijing for the con­struc­tion of Gwadar deep sea­port of in­ter­na­tional stan­dards. The work was un­der­taken by Chi­nese har­bour En­gi­neer­ing Company. The to­tal cost of the project was es­ti­mated at $1.16 bil­lion, ma­jor cost of which is shared by China. China has in­vested $198 mil­lion and Pak­istan $50 mil­lion to fi­nance the first phase. China also has in­vested another $200 mil­lion into build­ing a coastal high­way that will con­nect the Gwadar port with Karachi. The es­ti­mated cost of the sec­ond phase is $526 mil­lion which in­clude the con­struc­tion of nine ad­di­tional berths and ter­mi­nals. To im­prove land con­nec­tiv­ity be­tween Western China and Cen­tral Asia, pak­istan is build­ing land links to Afghanistan from Chaman in Balochis­tan to Kan­da­har in Afghanistan. In the north-west also sim­i­lar land links are be­ing built be­tween Torkham in Khy­ber pakhtunkhawa and Jalal­abad in Afghanistan. The port will also have an air de­fence unit, a gar­ri­son and an in­ter­na­tional air­port. Gwadar port started cargo han­dling from March 15, 2008. pak­istan has also handed over the op­er­a­tions of Gwadar port to China on Fe­bru­ary 18, 2013. It brings China vir­tu­ally to In­di­aÕs doorstep.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka has started com­ing closer to China since the end of its civil war in 2009 and tak­ing its help to de­velop its in­fra­struc­ture like roads, air­ports and ports. After the visit of Sri LankaÕs Min­is­ter of Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs to China, to meet his coun­ter­part, Chi­naÕs For­eign Min­istry made a state­ment that the lead­ers agreed to Òfully ex­pand mar­itime co­op­er­a­tion and jointly build the Mar­itime Silk Road of the 21st cen­tury.ÓChina is ex­pand­ing and mod­ernising Colombo port and de­vel­op­ing another port on Sri LankaÕs south coast at ham­ban­tota. Chi­nese war­ships break their voy­age while

Ex­am­ples are ports around In­dia like Gwadar in Pak­istan, Colombo and Ham­ban­tota in Sri Lanka, Chit­tagong in Bangladesh and ports/ naval fa­cil­i­ties in My­na­mar which are ob­vi­ously meant to con­tain In­dia.

on their way to pak­istan or for anti-piracy op­er­a­tions in the Gulf of Aden.

Colombo Port. China is de­vel­op­ing a shipping hub just 320 km from In­di­aÕs south­ern-most tip by ex­pand­ing and mod­ernising Colombo port which is old and con­gested. To­wards this end China is build­ing a new con­tainer ter­mi­nal called the Colombo South Con­tainer Ter­mi­nal (CSCT) which is be­ing built by the Colombo In­ter­na­tional Con­tainer Ter­mi­nals Ltd. (CICT). CICT is a joint ven­ture company be­tween China Mer­chants hold­ings (In­ter­na­tional) Co. Ltd., (CMhI with 85 per cent own­er­ship) and the Sri Lanka ports Au­thor­ity (SLpA with 15 per cent own­er­ship). CSCT has a planned ca­pac­ity of 2.4 mil­lion twenty-foot equiv­a­lent unit (TEU) and op­er­ates un­der a 35-year build, op­er­ate, and trans­fer agree­ment. The con­struc­tion com­menced in De­cem­ber 2011, with the first phase be­came op­er­a­tional for traf­fic on Au­gust 8, 2013. The CSCT is likely to be op­er­a­tional in 2014. The port of Colombo has a cur­rent ca­pac­ity of over 4.5 mil­lion TEUs, which will in­crease by another 7.2 mil­lion TEUs in three sep­a­rate phases. This will make Colombo port one of the worldÕs 20 largest con­tainer ports in the world. Colombo is a Òtrans-ship­mentÓ hub for In­dia as 13 per cent of In­dia’s con­tainer traf­fic trav­els via Colombo. Larger ships un­load con­tain­ers at Colombo and feeder boats trans-ship them to In­di­aÕs smaller and of­ten ob­so­lete ports. When new ter­mi­nal op­er­ates at full ca­pac­ity then its ca­pac­ity to In­dia may grow to 28 per cent. This raises se­cu­rity is­sues for In­dia as China runs this port and can thus hin­der smooth move­ment of es­sen­tial goods dur­ing cri­sis.

Port of Ham­ban­tota. port of Colombo is geared for con­tainer han­dling thus is un­able to pro­vide fa­cil­i­ties for port-re­lated in­dus­tries and ser­vices. To ac­cess th­ese ser­vices, ships had to take a long de­tour of three or more days. A new port was thus re­quired to pro­vide th­ese ser­vices and also ease out the pres­sure on Colombo port. A site near the city of hum­ban­tota was se­lected as it had a nat­u­ral har­bour and was lo­cated on the south­ern tip of Sri Lanka close to in­ter­na­tional shipping routes. The port of ham­ban­tota project was fi­nally launched after Mahinda Ra­japaksa, who is a na­tive of ham­ban­tota, was elected pres­i­dent of Sri Lanka in 2005. Con­struc­tion of this port started on Jan­uary 15, 2008, by the Chi­nese com­pa­niesÑ China har­bour En­gi­neer­ing Com-

It has been re­ported that China has taken lease of the Great Coco Is­land (lo­cated 18 km from An­daman and Ni­co­bar Is­lands) from My­na­mar and built a jetty and other naval fa­cil­i­ties to support a ‘lis­ten­ing sta­tion’ to mon­i­tor In­dian Navy’s ship move­ments and test-fir­ing of strate­gic mis­siles.

pany and Si­no­hy­dro Cor­po­ra­tion. The to­tal cost of the first phase of the project is es­ti­mated at $360 mil­lion, 85 per cent of which is be­ing pro­vided by the Chi­nese Gov­ern­ment and the re­main­ing 15 per cent by the SLpA on sim­i­lar lines of CSCT. The first phase of the project was com­pleted by Novem­ber 2010. The sec­ond phase will in­clude a con­tainer ter­mi­nal and the third phase will in­clude a dock­yard. On com­ple­tion, the port will be able to ac­com­mo­date 33 ves­sels at any given time, mak­ing it the largest port in South Asia. port of hum­ban­tota can also pro­vide a naval base in the close prox­im­ity of In­dia.


Kyaukpyu. Xi Jin­ping, for­mer Vice pres­i­dent of China had signed an agree­ment dur­ing 2009 on co­op­er­a­tion be­tween Myan­marÕs Min­istry of Na­tional plan­ning and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment and Citic Group of China for the Kyaukpyu Eco­nomic and Tech­no­log­i­cal De­vel­op­ment Zone, deepsea port and rail­way projects. Kyaukpyu has the ad­van­tage of its strate­gic lo­ca­tion that can con­nect China, In­dia and ASEAN. All the ex­ist­ing ports in Myan­mar in­clud­ing Yan­gon port are river ports and not deep enough for large con­ven­tional and con­tainer ves­sels. Con­struc­tion is likely to be com­pleted very soon of the oil and gas ter­mi­nal which will be linked to an oil and gas pipe­line to Yun­nan. The Min­istry of En­ergy had signed in 2009 the orig­i­nal mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing for the de­vel­op­ment, op­er­a­tion and man­age­ment of the Myan­mar Crude Oil pipe­line with China Na­tional pe­tro­leum Cor­po­ra­tion. The oil and gas ter­mi­nal will be able to ac­com­mo­date oil tankers of up to 3,00,000 dead­weight tonnes , and re­lated in­fra­struc­ture will make Kyaukpyu the re­gionÕs next petro­chem­i­cal hub after Sin­ga­pore. It has been re­ported that China has taken lease of the Great Coco Is­land (lo­cated 18 km from An­daman and Ni­co­bar Is­lands) from My­na­mar and built a jetty and other naval fa­cil­i­ties to support a Ôlis­ten­ing sta­tionÕto mon­i­tor In­dian NavyÕs ship move­ments and test-fir­ing of strate­gic mis­siles.

Mar­itime Silk Road. This pro­posal an­nounced by pres­i­dent Xi Jin­pingÕs which called for in­creased mar­itime co­op­er­a­tion be­tween China and the ASEAN coun­tries to bring peace and pros­per­ity to the coun­tries of East Asian Re­gion. Yang Baoyun, a pro­fes­sor of South­east Asian Stud­ies at pek­ing Univer­sity, said that Òthe new Mar­itime Silk Road will bring tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits to neigh­bours along the route, and will be a new driv­ing force for the pros­per­ity of the en­tire East Asian re­gion.ÓIt calls for the con­struc­tion of ports and mar­itime in­fra­struc­ture with China and its ASEAN part­ners. China has plans to invest $2 bil­lion for the up­grad­ing of the Malaysian port of Kuan­tan. China has of­fered a 3 bil­lion Yuan ( about $0.48 bil­lion) China-ASEAN Mar­itime Co­op­er­a­tion Fund to de­velop common mar­itime in­ter­ests in­clud­ing econ­omy. Chi­nese premier Li Ke­qiang had pledged to up­grade the Golden Decade of 2000-10 of China-ASEAN co­op­er­a­tion into a Di­a­mond Decade. In May 2014 China has ded­i­cated $1.6 bil­lion for this pur­pose.

In­di­aÕs re­sponds with ÔIO-5Õ. Dur­ing 2013 for­mer prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh an­nounced that hence­forth In­dia should be seen as a Ônet se­cu­rity provider to the re­gion.ÕWhile the bound­aries of In­di­aÕs ‘re­gion’ were not spec­i­fied but it ap­peared that the ini­tial fo­cus was on the Is­lands of the In­dian Ocean. The orig­i­nal group was Sri Lanka and Mal­dives along­with In­dia. On March 7, 2014, the for­mer Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­vi­sor Shivshankar Menon, an­nounced that the In­dian Ocean is­land states of Sey­chelles and Mau­ri­tius had also joined In­di­aÕs In­dian Ocean se­cu­rity group which has been loosely termed as the ÔIO5Õ. This ar­range­ment her­alds In­di­aÕs role as the lead­ing se­cu­rity role among the In­dian Ocean is­lands. In­dia has been hold­ing joint naval ex­er­cises with Sri Lanka and Mal­dives Coast Guard had joined in 2012. It was also un­der­stood that this ar­range­ment may be ex­tended to the Bay of Ben­gal re­gion in the fu­ture. IO-5 will share in­for­ma­tion and de­velop ca­pa­bil­i­ties to counter mar­itime ter­ror­ism, piracy and il­le­gal fish­ing. How­ever IO-5 is no match for Chi­naÕs ÔString of pearl­sÕor ÔMar­itime Silk Road­Õin terms of scale of vi­sion and fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment thereby rel­e­gat­ing In­dia to a much smaller re­gional role.

China’s Grand De­sign

Chi­naÕs pri­or­ity is for de­vel­op­ment and ex­pan­sion of mar­itime in­fra­struc­ture as it is worldÕs largest ex­porter and sec­ond- largest im­porter. It has many of the worldÕs largest con­tainer ports and con­trols 20 per cent of the world’s con­tainer fleet. China has be­come one of the largest ship builders in the world with 41 per cent of ships by weight built in 2012. Chi­naÕs Mar­itime in­ter­ests are be­ing trans­lated through ÔString of pearl­sÕand ÔMar­itime Silk RoadÕ. It seems now that fi­nally the ‘Mar­itime Silk Road­Õwill also be linked with the ex­ist­ing ÔString of pearlsÕ. Both ÔString of pearlsÕ and ÔMar­itime Silk Road­Õwill pro­vide China with naval bases in the In­dian Ocean and Pa­cific Ocean to safe­guard its strate­gic in­ter­ests, simultaneously pro­vid­ing it com­mer­cial and en­ergy se­cu­rity. Chi­naÕs pri­or­ity is to con­struct and run ports es­tab­lish free trade zones in In­dian Ocean coun­tries to re­in­force Chi­naÕs deep­en­ing eco­nomic pres­ence in the In­dian Ocean re­gion and in In­di­aÕs neigh­bour­hood.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: Wikipedia

Gwadar Port in Pak­istan

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