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Indian String of Pearls "Unstringing" Chinese String of Pearls Theory

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INS Airavat VietnamMonth of May was full of geopolitical developments and changes in one of the most nuclear armed hostile region of the world, the CIP band (China-India-Pakistan). The new premier of China went to India on his first ever foreign visit and then to meet the new leadership of their ally, Pakistan. In the meantime Afghan President came to India in his unofficial low profile meeting, but making solid developments. Indian Prime Minister in the hope of surviving in the next election met with Japanese and Thai leadership signing various economic and strategic pacts. All this happened in a short period of time and quite related to each other.

China renewed the border dispute with India by entering 19 Km deep inside Indian territory in Laddakh and setting up temporary bases. With this, People’s Liberation Army of China has made it clear that with the new premier of China is not going to change its stance on the border issue between the two countries. China’s aggressiveness is as a result of India’s passiveness specially on the border issues with China. A number of times India just ignores Chinese intrusion just to avoid any major or minor conflict with the giant dragon. India’s behaviour like a “wet cat” encourages China to suppress India with its power. The border dispute was resolved on the assurance from India that its army will not patrol on its own territory of that region and will treat it as a disputed territory. The government in India later cheered that they have resolved the border dispute peacefully and patiently. Such a wonderful achievement, really!!

The term string of pearls (Read More: Chinese String of Pearls Theory) theory is mainly used for China, how it is surrounding India and other south east Asian nations with its presence forming a string of pearls. String of pearls may or may not be a threat for the countries being surrounded, but surely a warning that at the time of need China may anytime use its developed infrastructure against them.

Unlike India, Vietnam and Philippines have been more assertive in claiming their sovereignty in the disputed South China Sea. Almost an year ago, officials of Philippine maritime attempted to arrest Chinese fishermen in waters off Scarborough Shoal, claimed by the Philippines as within its Exclusive Economic Zone. This is something which India could have done with the Chinese soldiers who had entered inside the Indian territory. India had full rights to do so and then could have opened diplomatic channels for returning the soldiers with a warning.

The South China Sea area is crossed by more than half the world’s total trade and has an estimated vast energy and mineral reserves completely claimed by China and in part by neighbouring nations: Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. One of the main reason of the tension is fishing rights of Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei in their own waters. China stops fishing near its shores from mid-May until August to facilitate nurturing of fishes in the water. This makes Chinese fishermen, guarded by naval vessels, head to the waters claimed by neighbouring countries without even recognizing their territorial claims, China considers almost all of the South China sea as its territorial water.

On May 10, the Philippines claimed China intruded inside its 370 Km exclusive economic zone with a military frigate, two surveillance ships and some fishing boats around Second Thomas Shoal, days after the incident, the Philippines launched a diplomatic protest which did not stop China as after ten days on May 20, Vietnam filed a diplomatic protest saying one of its ships was rammed by a Chinese vessel on May 20 in its water.

China simply ignores the territorial claims made by its neighbours in the South China Sea as it is assertive that South China sea is Chinese territory and there is no way China would hold a dialogue with the neighbours on the territorial issue. According to Ni Lexiong, professor of international military affairs and diplomacy at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, China’s neighbors are making claims in the South China Sea that are “not reasonable” because they want access to oil resources.

India’s opinion on Chinese string of pearls theory is a bit disappointing to China’s south east Asian neighbours  who are in need of non regional powers to mediate for bringing peace and stability in the region. According to India, Chinese economy is dependent on its large number of imports and exports which passes through Persian Gulf and Straight of Malacca, hence having security setup to secure its economy is legitimate and India should not worry.

“Unstringing” Chinese String of Pearls Theory

Being said that, the passiveness which India exhibits is mere a show to the world, in reality the story is slightly different. In the background India has stealthily developed a version of its own string of pearls theory. India may or may not keep the will and power to alone challenge China openly, but is involved actively with other Indian Ocean Region island nations to collectively “unstring” the Chinese string of pearls. China has a number of times claimed that India is forming a metal chain or “Iron Curtain” in Indian Ocean to block its interest. (Read more: The Strait of Malacca: The Meeting Point of Giants)
India's string of pearls theory
View of various countries on South China Sea conflict, String of pearls theory or their political inclination

India has quietly made way for its interests in the island nations and African nations in Indian Ocean Region, which includes Mauritius, Maldives, Seychelles and Madagascar and the countries of South Africa, Tanzania and Mozambique with a very agile foreign policy, economic compensations like the double taxation exemption with Mauritius, and military aid.

Indian Navy maintains a robust hydrographic arm, with eight sophisticated survey ships, a number of survey aircrafts, and state of the art facilities in Dehradun and Goa. The well equipped surveying arm of the Indian Navy has made several successes in undertaking various survey assignments for countries like Oman, Saudi Arabia and island nations in the Indian Ocean making a positive strategic footprints that would certainly irk China. India has in fact gained ship berthing rights in Oman which is a strategic location for the fight against piracy. The port also allows the Indian Navy to monitor the SLOCs of Hormuz and Aden.

India has signed an MoU with Mozambique that will provide the African nation Indian piracy patrols. Going a further step, in a 2007 report, which has not been denied by the government, it was reported that India has setup a listening post in the African island nation of Madagascar.

Forums like IOR-ARC (Indian Ocean Rim – Arrangement for Regional Cooperation) and IBSA (India-Brasil-South Africa) have been formed for better commercial, energy and resources link with Africa. Assertive India not only brought Mauritius, Mozambique and Madagascar to back India’s move to block Pakistan’s membership in IOR-ARC, but also managed to block China’s access to IBSA.

According to an unconfirmed report, India signed an agreement on Defence Cooperation in 2001 with Mongolia stationing radar systems able to monitor Chinese missile tests. Defence cooperation also included holding bilateral military exercises and discussion  on having an airbase which has not yet been successful.

India on the other hand has developed strong military relationship with Maldives, which includes basing two helicopters permanently in the island nation to enhance its surveillance capability. India will setup 26 radars in Maldives along its entire coastline for seamless coverage of approaching vessels and aircraft. This radar chain will be interlinked with the Indian radar chain with a central control room in India’s Coastal Command.

African island nation of Mauritius enjoys deeper relations with India. India had setup the Mauritius Coast Guard in the 70s and the island nation gone even further to lease two islands to India allowing it to use it “as per its benefit”. Coming back to the land, India maintains Farkhor air base and has been involved in renovating Ayni air base both in Tajikistan minutes away from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and China occupied Kashmir. (Read Both the Stories: India Expanding Its Strategic Presence in Other Countries).

Indian Iron Curtain (String of Pearls) on Chinese Backyard

As Chi Haotin, general of People’s Republic of China said, “The Indian Ocean is not India’s Ocean”. India says, “South China sea is not China’s sea”. Seeing Chinese increasing activities in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, India took similar steps to irk China by increasing its activity in South China sea. India knows that it may not be able to contain China alone, as a result India collectively with Japan, Russia and the US stands against China.

India and Vietnam has signed several defence agreement which includes selling of state of the art, world’s fastest supersonic cruise missile, Brahmos. Vietnam has also provided basing rights to Indian Navy on its port of Nha Trang on a western shore of the South China Sea. Russia, which has been recently partnering with China in almost all the global events surprised China with its move to provide six Varshavyanka-class submarines to Vietnam which has enhanced anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare capabilities to perform in shallow waters, a perfect card to play in the South China sea. Russia whose superpower attitude has been on decline since 1991 is expecting to enter South China sea conflict in its own way when people have started analyzing that Russia has lost to China in its race to become the next superpower (What’s your opinion on this?).

In 2011, India’s state-run explorer, OVL signed a three-year deal with PetroVietnam for developing long-term cooperation in the oil sector, accepting Vietnam’s offer of exploration in the South China Sea making China protest against this move.

Vietnam, which had a tough history with United States has invited US presence in the region giving the signal that for regional peace and stability Vietnam doesn’t mind participation of non regional nations. To solidify its relations further with United States, Vietnam is expected to request the US government for the sale of Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft, a senior company official told IHS Jane’s. This makes clear that Vietnam is trying India’s long trusted policy of forming good relations with both the United States and Russia. Vietnam’s attitude shows the potential, which it has, to become the regional power of south east Asia.

In the meantime, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has assured Asian nations that despite their sharp cuts in defence budgets, the Pentagon will continue to shift its military focus to the Asia Pacific region.

In 2009, India contributed $1.2 million and advanced $774,000 to the TTEG (Tripartite Technical Experts Group). India volunteered to survey wrecks in the Malacca Straits which approved by the TTEG, further irking the Chinese.

Responding to the recent visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Japan discussing maritime security cooperation, Chinese media has raised concerns that Japan is trying to encircle China with the help of military and economic cooperation with India.

While India easily bows down to China making compromises on its own territories, India is seen very assertive and aggressive in its policy of containing China in the international soil and waters. Leadership of both the nations often meet with shaking hands and smiles on their face signing more trade agreements and contracts and hoping for better cooperation in the future, but behind their smiley face both the nations know what they are doing and what is needed to be done.

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Sanskar Shrivastava is the founder of international students’ journal, The World Reporter. Passionate about dynamic occurrence in geopolitics, Sanskar has been studying and analyzing geopolitcal events from early life. At present, Sanskar is a student at the Russian Centre of Science and Culture and will be moving to Duke University.

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India’s Victory at the International Court of Justice is the World’s Challenge to the Status Quo

Manak Suri

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For the past week, both the Indian and British media have rigorously covered the story of the re-election of India’s justice Dalveer Bhandari to the bench of judges in the International Court of Justice on Tuesday, November 21. That the Indian judge retained his position on the bench was not the sole reason for the story’s extensive coverage; his reappointment combined with the fact that it happened at the expense of the United Kingdom’s spot on the bench is why the story is making so many rounds… and no, that many Indians may see it as some sort of a comeback against Britain’s 200 years of colonial rule over the country is not the reason why it matters. It matters because this is the first time since 1946 that the UK has no judge on the ICJ bench, and that signals possible changes in the way international bodies govern and are governed. So what does this mean for India, for the UK and for the world at large?

The International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice or the ICJ was established in 1945 by the United Nations as its principal judicial branch and is located in The Hague, Netherlands. Its job is to settle legal disputes between states that are submitted to it and give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it. The court comprises of a total of 15 judges that are elected to 9 year terms by way of voting from both the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) separately. One third of the court is re-elected every three years, and no two judges of the same nationality may assume positions on the bench simultaneously. However, the rule that led to the deadlock between the candidates from India and UK is that a candidate must obtain an absolute majority in both the UNGA and the UNSC in order to be elected to the bench.

UN General Assembly vs UN Security Council: The Race in Numbers

On November 9 and November 13, in seven rounds of voting justice Bhandari secured between 110 and 121 votes from a total of 193 in the UNGA against figures between 68 and 79 secured by his British counterpart Sir Christopher Greenwood. However, among the UNSC, justice Bhandari lost out by 5 votes to 9 in favour of Sir Greenwood. In the face of uncertainty, the UK then pushed for a ‘joint conference’ under the rules of the court between the UNSC and the UNGA. Under the ‘joint conference’ three countries from each side then determine the name for the court. However, the rules do not mention the procedure to select these countries and understandably so, since the option was last invoked in 1921. Fearing not enough support from the council, criticism for invoking the charter, and harming its friendly as well as economic relations with India, the UK eventually chose to not follow through with the process and withdrew its candidature for the post. In the end, India secured the seat with a total of 183 votes out of 193 at the UNGA and all 15 at the UNSC.

There is More to the Victory than Meets the Eye

The result means different things for the parties involved and also for the balance of power and influence between countries. For the UK, there are hardly any positives to take away from this result amid already turbulent times. Many in the British media have viewed this loss as ‘a blow to British international prestige’ and the country’s acceptance of a diminishing role in global affairs. This was the UK’s second major defeat at the ICJ after it lost a vote by a margin of 94 to 15 countries in June when the UNGA voted in favour of referring the question of decolonisation and self-determination of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean to the ICJ, which is currently under its control. Many within and outside the country have also been quick to blame Brexit for the situation in which they find themselves today, arguing that the other states, especially the ones within the European Union would have been less willing to snub the UK had the UK chosen not to leave the alliance. In the face of defeat, British diplomats have continued to maintain that they are happy that their close friend India has won, but have also not been shy of hiding their natural disappointment at their own loss.

For India, their victory in having a judge win the contest in getting elected to the ICJ bench against a permanent member of the UNSC is more symbolic than anything else. It reinforces India’s image at the highest stage as a major emerging global player and its ability to bring in greater reforms that push for more involvement from developing countries and emerging economies. Also, having a judge on the ICJ bench gives India an edge over Pakistan in the case involving former Indian Navy Officer Kulbhushan Jadhav who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistan military court on the charges of espionage. True, a judge on the ICJ does not represent his/her country or their interests. However, as suggested by repeated criticism the court receives for being biased in favour of the states who appoint the judges, having a judge on the panel is certainly an asset for any country, no matter what the rules dictate on paper.

The most important takeaway from the whole episode far exceeds the ambitions of just the two countries and a race for a seat at the ICJ. India’s victory at the court reinforces the belief that power does not necessarily reside or has to reside with the ‘few global elite’, a sentiment which was expressed clearly when most member states of the UNGA backed India’s justice Bhandari to be re-elected against the choice of the permanent members or P5 of the UNSC. There seems to be an acknowledgment among the member states of the UN of the beginning of a change which sees an increasing shift in the balance of power away from the traditional powers of the world or the P5 – Britain, China, United States, Russia, and France. Of these countries, China was the only member to not have a judge on the ICJ between 1967 and 1985 till the final decision last week, when they were joined by the UK in the list. Last year, Russia was voted off the United Nations Human Rights Council. In the 2016 elections, France lost out on securing a position in the International Law Commission. While diplomats at the UN continue to maintain that there are no winners and losers here, that it is all part of a bigger picture, these developments undoubtedly mark diplomatic victories for the Group of 77 or the G77, a coalition of developing nations at the UN that have constantly pushed for an enhanced negotiating capacity. What remains to be seen is just to what extent they bring about a change in the status quo.

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Iran’s Chabahar Port: How India, Afghanistan, and Iran Gain From it

Manak Suri

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November 11, 2017 was a significant day diplomatically and geopolitically for Iran, India, and Afghanistan. A trilateral cooperation between the three countries saw Afghanistan receive its first shipment of wheat from India which was set in motion by India’s minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj on October 29 along with her Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani. The shipment was the first among a series as part of India’s commitment to supply 1.1 million tons of wheat to the people of the country suffering from decades of war and instability. At the center of this achievement lies Iran’s Chabahar port and the trilateral International Transport and Transit Corridor Agreement between the three countries.

The Iranian port in Chabahar: why it is so important

The Iranian port is located in the country’s southernmost city of Chabahar, and has periodically found itself making headlines especially as the Asian powerhouses in India and China compete for influence in the seas to establish trade relationships across Asia, Europe, and Africa. As China pumps more and more investment into its mammoth Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a modern take on the Silk Route to connect 60 countries across the three continents through land and sea routes, the port of Chabahar has over a period of time found its suitors in prime opponents of the BRI such as India and Japan with the former already investing around USD 500 million in the port. While the idea for the port’s development was first proposed in 1979, it is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2018.

It would be rather unrealistic to assume that the Chabahar port will challenge China’s BRI as a whole to a direct geopolitical contest. However, once fully operational, the port is expected to connect the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean with St. Petersburg in Russia and further ahead with Europe through the International North South Transport Corridor or the INSTC. India, Afghanistan, and Iran stand to gain in different ways both collectively and individually through this development in trade routes.

A win-win-win situation

The development of the Chabahar port presents the key for India to reforge an oil based relationship with Iran and to forge trade relations beyond Afghanistan with countries in Central Asia. Once the port is fully developed, it is expected to also carry a larger variety of cargo, including heavy engineering goods and electronics. With a much shorter route to Europe, the time taken to transport goods from ports in India to countries in Europe is expected to be reduced by more than half from the 45 days it currently takes for the cargo to reach its destination. It is also estimated the cost of the deliveries will be reduced by about 30-40%. Moreover, it seems extremely unlikely that India will be a part of the Chinese proposed BRI, given that an integral component of the initiative is the China Pakistan Economic Corrdior (CPEC) that runs through the Kashmir region whose ownership is hotly contested by both India and Pakistan. In that regard, the Chabahar port offers India the opportunity to challenge China at least in some capacity in their ever expanding contest for trade and influence across the globe, by connecting it to rail networks of different countries in Central Asia.

For a landlocked Afghanistan which has no direct access to the seas, the development of the Chabahar port and its agreement with India and Iran coming to fruition holds great significance. The port opens up the country to the world, and provides it with better access to trade, vastly reducing its dependency on its neighbour Pakistan and enabling it to forge even closer ties with India. Pakistan has in the past disallowed India to access the land route to Afghanistan for the provision of aid to the country. Now an alternate route through Chabahar allows for the same to reach the country first from the port to Zaranj, which is adjacent to Afghanistan’s border with Iran, and then further 218 km ahead into the country via the Zarang-Delaram highway.

For Iran, a fully functional seaport in Chabahar appears to be strategically important since it is located away from the historically contested waters of the Arabian Gulf. Recovering now from easing sanctions, Iran looks to climb the geopolitical ladder and reestablish itself in the coming decades. Amid worsening ties with the United States, it has caught the attention of China, Russia, and other countries in Europe and also looks to gain from its relation with India. The Chabahar port may just be the key to put an end to its economic isolation. Even with the United States and India recognising each other as allies, Iran has not yet found any opposition from the US against India’s cooperation with Iran on the port, and that is because the US recognises the benefit that Afghanistan is able to attain from India’s efforts through the Chabahar port.

India, Iran, and Afghanistan share historical civilisational ties and similarities and the same was referenced by Indian minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj. “This shows the convergence between the ancient civilisations of India, Afghanistan and Iran to spur unhindered flow of commerce and trade throughout the region,” said Swaraj as she flagged off the first shipment of wheat to Afghanistan on October 29.

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Environment

A Choking City: What the Ongoing Toxic Week in Delhi Means for its People

Manak Suri

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A joke on the morbidity of New Delhi is circulating among Delhiites (people from Delhi) that while the lives of the citizens were disrupted in November last year due to ‘note-bandi’ (ban on currency), November of this year presents an even tougher test for the people with ‘saans-bandi’, a ban on breathing. The receding autumn or advent of winter was a once beloved season of a good number of people in the city who welcomed the change with a complete revamp of their wardrobes with colourful woollens. It is now characterized with bleak skies, an air of gloom and a little bit of grey in everything you see outside of your house.

For the past three days, I have been acutely aware of the air I am breathing, felt unproductive and apprehensive in spells for no good reason, and felt the need to confine myself to my house for as long as possible. These are some of the less apparent effects of the thick blanket of smog that has engulfed the national capital region. As a number of people donned with different types of masks on the roads and on Snapchat serve as a constant visual reminder of how the city is choking, a flurry of articles and news updates have presided over my feed. One of them included a horrifying viral video recording of vehicles ramming into each other due to poor visibility on the Noida-Agra Expressway as people scrambled to get themselves and their children out of the way, while some other articles argued about how currently breathing in Delhi for a day is the equivalent of smoking twenty cigarettes.

A sudden state of emergency

Less than two days ago, when the air quality in Delhi visibly worsened, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal likened the city to a ‘gas chamber’. The PM 10 and PM 2.5 levels in different parts of the capital have rocketed above the levels that are considered safe, and the Safar (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research) has declared the air quality as ‘severe’ for at least the next three days after which the level may drop to a not so safe either ‘very poor’ level. In some parts of the city, the AQI (air quality index) was detected on monitors at 999, the highest possible reading, which suggests that the level might be even higher. The visibility during the early hours has also dropped to very low levels. Among the different reasons for the observed level of pollution in Delhi, slow winds at this time of the year have been identified as the prime contributor along with stubble burning by farmers in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana. Combined with the dust particles present in the air, omissions from vehicles that plague the roads in the region throughout the day, and those from factories and construction activities, these factors dictate a recipe for creating uninhabitable conditions.

Making amends: A scramble for order

The Indian Medical Association on 7th November declared Delhi to be in a state of public health emergency, urging the Delhi government and other bodies to take adequate steps to ensure minimum risk to citizens, especially young children and the elderly, who are most likely to suffer from the effects of pollution. After a worsening situation, the government has ordered all schools in the capital to remain shut till Sunday, and has rolled out plans to implement the odd-even scheme for vehicles in the city from next week. Parking fee throughout the city has also been increased fourfold and the prices for travel by the metro have been substantially reduced for the time being to promote the use of public transport. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has also banned all construction and industrial activities till November 14 in a bid to provide the citizens of Delhi a breath of better quality air. Mr. Kejriwal has also approached his counterparts from Punjab and Haryana over the issue of stubble burning by the farmers but it remains to be seen how the move plays out in the coming days.

As the government battles against the situation, the public is taking measures to protect themselves in whatever way they can. An increasing number of doctors and specialists on the matter have advised people not to go out for morning walks or outdoor activities so as to not inhale excessive quantities of toxic pollutants. Some doctors have even advised their patients to leave the city for the time being if possible. Air purifiers for houses and masks for travelling outside have seen a huge rise in sales as nearly everyone has become an expert on the subject of filters and N95 and N99 have become trending words from pharmacies to WhatsApp conversations.

A year ago, while New Delhi wrestled with more or less the same conditions, UNICEF had called on the rest of the world to consider the situation as a wake up call. “It is a wake up call that very clearly tells us: unless decisive actions are taken to reduce air pollution, the events we are witnessing in Delhi over the past week are likely to be increasingly common”, it had said in a statement. If we are doing better than last year, it is still not enough, and all one needs is less than a minute in the open to be convinced of that. As the world battles with the effects of climate change, India’s bid to have a major global footprint in the coming decades is bound to take a serious hit if so many of its cities, and especially its capital follow a trend of being unlivable for a chunk of time at the end of every year.

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