Joint efforts helping maintain peace in the Indian Ocean
The Indian Ocean has become increasingly important to China with its rise. The strategic interests of China in the Indian Ocean can be found in the following areas.
The first interest is resource security, particularly oil security. Now, China is the largest oil consumer and the largest oil importer in the world, and the Indian Ocean has huge reserves of oil and natural gas. The Persian Gulf contains 62 percent of the proven oil reserves in the world and 35 percent of natural gas. Over the past years the Persian Gulf has been China’s largest source of oil imports, and the total amount of oil imported from the Persian Gulf account for half of China’s total.
The second interest is the security of the trading route. China is the largest trader in the world with dependence on foreign trade of more than 80 percent, and 90 percent of its foreign trade is through the sea. It means the sea line of communication is of extreme significance to China. The Indian Ocean is an important passage linking China to South Asia, West Asia, Europe, Africa and Oceania. And the oil transported through the Indian Ocean accounts for 80 percent of the total imported by China, and China’s trade via the Indian Ocean accounts for 40 percent of the total. So it is no exaggeration to say that rapid development of China’s economy is based on the booming trans-Indian Ocean trade.
The third interest is the security of China’s western border. There are many countries in the Indian Ocean region with different levels of development, and different social and political systems and cultures and customs. It makes the Indian Ocean a region where various non-traditional security events frequently occur. Since the western part of China is located near the heart of Eurasia, its geosecurity, particularly the stability and development of China’s western border area, is directly influenced by the stability in the northern rim of the Indian Ocean.
The fourth interest is the safety of the people. The rim of the Indian Ocean has become one of the important destinations for Chinese people with more than 1 million Chinese there. Due to the turbulent security situation in the region, Chinese people there are kidnapped, robbed or killed from time to time.
Peace and cooperation in the Indian Ocean is not only China’s concern, but also the concern of other powers. The strategic interests of other powers can be found in the following areas:
First, to ensure the security of the Indian Ocean as an important international passage for trade. Since India is the regional power in South Asia, its booming economy relies heavily on the sea line of communication in the Indian Ocean. Japan, the Republic of Korea, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore, too, rely heavily on the routes in the Indian Ocean with a great amount of raw materials imported and a great amount of products exported through the Indian Ocean.
Second, to ensure the security of oil supply from the Middle East. India imports more than 70 percent of its total oil needs. With its demand for energy increasing in recent years, India has made the Middle East its main energy source. Crude oil from the Middle East is still indispensable for the US economy. Nearly all the crude oil needed by Japan is imported, and 70 percent of that comes through the Indian Ocean.
Third, to respond to non-traditional security threats. The Indian Ocean is a region where various non-traditional security events, as well as international terrorism and extremism incidents frequently occur. Many countries suffer the consequences of terrorism. In addition, natural disasters are often reported in the countries around the Indian Ocean, as 70 percent of the natural disasters in the world occur there.
As analyzed above, a peaceful, stable and prosperous Indian Ocean is not only in the interest of the people in this region, but also in the interest of the big powers. Therefore, cooperation in the Indian Ocean is the only choice for the big powers.
To promote peace and security and ensure freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean, the big powers can cooperate to provide public goods for countering piracy and terrorism at sea, fighting drug trafficking, and for joint search and rescue operations, humanitarian assistance, and international peace-keeping. Their militaries can increase cooperation and enhance mutual trust through joint efforts in training and exercises.