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Power Rivalry in Indian Ocean

By  M.M. Munshi

The dramatically growing two Asian economies in the world namely China and India likely to surpass the developed countries of the west are dependant for their energy needs from outside their borders Global energy needs are likely to increase by about 40-50 percent by about 2030 and about half of the demand will come from India and China. China’s demand for crude oil doubled between 1995 and 2005 and is likely to double again by 2020.. China is expected to import about half of Saudi Arabia’s planned output. More than eighty five percent of oil and oil products cross the Indian Ocean Strait of Malacca . India has almost become the world’s fourth largest energy consumer after the US , China, and Japan . India is dependent for oil approximately one thirds of its energy needs on oil ,sixty five percent of which is imported . ninety percent of India’s oil imports of crude come from Persian Gulf. In addition to its, via own resources India imports coal from far off Mozambique, South Africa, Australia and Indonesia.

More ever large quantities of liquefied natural gas from gulf countries via Strait of Hormuz, southern Africa in addition to Indonesia and Malaysia . Since the northern part of Indian Ocean stretching from the east African coast Strait of Hormuz to South East Asia will become an area of great energy trade , India as well as China are seeking to increase their influences .China has build the port of Gadwar in the Makran coast of Pakistan, India has reciprocated by building the port of Cha Bahar—- in Iran.

The Indian ocean is dominated by two sizable bays , the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal near the tips of which are world’s two most unstable countries namely Pakistan and Myanmar (Burma) . State collapse or regime change in Pakistan would effect its neighbors. The Baluchi and Sindhi separatists seeking closer links with Iran and India respectively. Likewise the unsuitability in Myanmar where competition between India and China over energy and mineral resources looms large. A more liberal regime in Myanmar than the present military junta could undermine China’s dominant position and increase India’s influence. While as the dynamic economic growth of China and India have been noted ,equally dynamic military ramifications have seem not .India’s and China’s quests for energy resources and global power have shifted gazes .of both countries from land to sea. According to James Holmes and Toshi Yosihara of US Naval war college “ the fact they are focusing on their sea power indicates how much more self confident they are on Land”. The skirmishes on Indo Tibet border may be diversionary tactics by the Chinese. See power that is deployment of navies somewhat looks less threatening than occupation of land by armies..Needless to say that there will be tension between the two navies as the gap between their relative strength and area decreases . To understand this situation one must look at the region maritime angle. Even today’s jet and information age ninety percent of global commerce and 65% of oil travel by sea.

Indian ocean accounts for more than half of marine traffic in th4e world. About seventy percent of oil and oil products pass through the Indian Ocean from the Middle East to Atlantic or Pacific oceans. The ships laden with these products have to pass through world’s oil shipping lanes including the strait of Hormuz gulf of Aden and Oman, Strait of Malacca and other choke points . Both countries are trying their utmost to increase their zones of influence from Middle East to south east Asia. Chinese navy has already made its appearance at the Burmese island of Coco north of Andaman Islands. Gwadar on the Baluchistan coast and elsewhere . China is also negotiating for construction of a Panama type of canal across Thailand to reduce the distance as well as threat to its shipping. As India’s economy continues to grow, so will its trade with Iran and Iraq once that country recovers. Iran like Afghanistan has become a strategic rear base for India against Pakistan, and is poised to become an important energy partner. A few years back Iran has signed an agreement with Iran for supply of 7.5 million tons of LNG annually for period of 25 years since 2009.

India is also expanding its military and economic ties with Myanmar because the latter is rich in oil, gas, other mineral resources and timber. India has also started enlarging its navy, with its 160 warships Indian navy is one of the world’s largest and has planned to add three aircraft carriers and numerous nuclear powered submarines destroyers and frigates to its arsenal by 1915. Indeed as India is extending its influence from Middle East and South East Asia at sea China is desperately trying its best to integrate Taiwan into its dominion so that it can divert its navy southwards into Indian Ocean . India on the other hand is concerned about its oil imports from middle east passing close to Makran coast where China is building deep water ports at Gwadr and which are likely to become Chinese naval bases. China is also planning to built a canal on the pattern of Panama Canal across the Isthmus of Kra in Thailand. Zaho Nanqi formerly of Chinese Liberation Army has stated that China can no longer accept India’s dominance in Indian Ocean. India on its part is also building the port of Karwar and Cha Bahar on its western coast and Persian gulf respectively. Besides maintaining its naval, Air and land forces in Andaman Nicobar islands. Chinese are worried that about 244 Indian islands of Andamans and Nicobar could be used for blocking the western approaches to the strait of Malacca on which China is very much dependent, needless to add that China has recognized India as a major sea power.. The United Sates besides a number of problems in Asia faces the major challenge of growing naval forces of China and India in the Indian Ocean. China like Iran is/may not be an enemy of US ,but a keen competitor and India is a new ally. Indian navy which is on the rise on the rise in the Indian Ocean will function as an antidote to China’s naval/military expansion.

Like the British Navy at the end of 19th century began to reduce its strength worldwide to leverage its power to US and Japanese navies , US Navy is also declining its presence by leveraging the growing sea power to its allies like India and Japan to balance against China.. India has willingly and without directions from US tried to balance against Chinese since the latter’s occupation of Tibet..Indo Chinese rivalry is likely to take dimensions of a great game.. The Indians and Chinese will indulge in a great power rivalry with their
economic interests for which the only superpower in the world may serve as a stabilizing one.




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