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US–India–China Relations in the Indian Ocean: A Chinese Perspective



The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is becoming increasingly significant in the world arena, with the United States, India and China—the most important stakeholders in the region—playing substantial roles. Judging from the three countries' strategic thought, concerns, interests and power balances, it is the US–India potential competition for maritime dominance in the IOR that demands the most attention. However, competition does not mean confrontation. Since the three countries face similar security challenges and share common interests in the IOR, it is necessary for them to compete to a reasonable extent while pushing forward with functional cooperation. Because of the existence of an interdependent relationship and common security challenges, the future scenario will be one of dynamic and manageable competition, instead of inevitable conflict and rivalry.
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US–India–China Relations in the Indian
Ocean: A Chinese Perspective
Chunhao Lou
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To cite this article: Chunhao Lou (2012): US–India–China Relations in the Indian Ocean: A Chinese
Perspective, Strategic Analysis, 36:4, 624-639
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Strategic Analysis
Vol. 36, No. 4, July–August 2012, 624–639
US–India–China Relations in the Indian Ocean:
A Chinese Perspective
Chunhao Lou
Abstract: The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is becoming increasingly significant in the
world arena, with the United States, India and China—the most important stakehold-
ers in the region—playing substantial roles. Judging from the three countries’ strategic
thought, concerns, interests and power balances, it is the US–India potential compe-
tition for maritime dominance in the IOR that demands the most attention. However,
competition does not mean confrontation. Since the three countries face similar security
challenges and share common interests in the IOR, it is necessary for them to compete to
a reasonable extent while pushing forward with functional cooperation. Because of the
existence of an interdependent relationship and common security challenges, the future
scenario will be one of dynamic and manageable competition, instead of inevitable
conflict and rivalry.
The Indian Ocean is the world’s third largest body of water, with the distinctive
geostrategic feature of being enclosed by land on three sides. The Indian Ocean
Region (IOR) comprises all littoral and islands states in the ocean, and bordering the
ocean, extending from the Middle East and Africa to South Asia, Australia and South
East Asia. There are 48 independent countries in the IOR: 18 in Africa; 11 in the
Middle East; 7 in South Asia; 6 in South East Asia; 5 island states; and Australia.1
Since the adoption of the Westphalian System, the Western powers have dominated
world politics. The Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, rather than the Indian Ocean, have
always been at the centre of the world stage. However, as the world is now witnessing
a great shift of power from West to East, an increasing importance of energy poli-
tics and more serious non-traditional threats, the Indian Ocean ‘joined to the western
Pacific would truly be at the strategic heart of the world’.2In fact, Alfred T. Mahan
stated: ‘Whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia. The ocean is the key
to seven seas. In the 21st century, the destiny of the world will be decided on its
water’. Although this attribution has been seriously questioned and is believed to be
‘fictitious’,3it has been frequently cited by many Chinese and Indian scholars.
The main purpose of this article is not to emphasise the Indian Ocean’s increas-
ingly significant status, which has been frequently talked about during the past few
years, but instead to try to address the interactive relationship between three strategic
players—the US, India and China—in changed circumstances. Though it may not be
Chunhao Lou was Visiting Fellow at IDSA, New Delhi, from May to October, 2011. He is
an Assistant Research Professor at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations
(CICIR), Beijing.
ISSN 0970-0161 print/ISSN 1754-0054 online
© 2012 Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
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Strategic Analysis 625
convincing to argue that the US, India and China will be the three most important
players in the IOR,4considering the fact that the other powers are either allies or
deeply influenced by the three countries it is reasonable to say that the US–India–China
interaction is the main determinant for regional security.
Power shift and the ‘great game’ in the IOR
The Indian Ocean is one of the most important global trading areas, a significant
resource centre and a highly diversified geopolitical entity. Judging from every perspec-
tive, the IOR is witnessing great transformations and changes. Many transformations
and changes have already occurred and they will continue for a long time, thus shaping
the macro-circumstances of US–India–China trilateral relations. The power shift is one
of the most important strategic transformations and will have a determining influence
on US–India–China interactions.
The Indian Ocean, as reflected in history, has been dominated by outside powers
for too long. Although the IOR littoral states boast of a long seafaring history, no
regional powers, including India, have been capable of dominating the whole Indian
Ocean region. At the end of 15th century, Vasco da Gama opened the new sea route to
India and ‘ushered in a clearly marked epoch of history in the Indian Ocean region’.5
Since then, the IOR littoral states have been colonised by Portugal, Holland, France and
Britain successively. India, after being fully colonised by Great Britain, was viewed
as the ‘jewel in the crown of the British Empire’ and the Indian Ocean became a
‘British lake’. The IOR has since lost its original geographic characteristics and has
become a chessboard for extra-regional powers. Before the end of the World War II,
Great Britain ensured it was the dominant power in international relations. However,
the scenario changed during the Cold War and the US and the Soviet Union hastened
to fill the power vacuum left by the withdrawal of Britain. The Soviet Union tried to
increase its presence by sending naval warships into the region, supporting regional
anti-imperialism movements and invading Afghanistan, while the US inherited Diego
Garcia from Britain and greatly interfered with Middle Eastern regional affairs. After
the end of the Cold War, the US followed a ‘forward deployment’ maritime policy,
terming the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf ‘places to which we rou-
tinely deploy naval expeditionary forces’.6Thus, relying on the Diego Garcia military
base and the fifth fleet positioned there, the US is still the strongest military presence
in the IOR. France and Japan also have some military presence in this region. France
has some bases in its ‘overseas territories’ in the Indian Ocean, and its ‘bases in La
Reunion, Mayotte, Djibouti and the United Arab Emirates have led to a “quadrilatere
francais” in the Indian Ocean region’.7‘As a leading military power, France’s military
presence in the region could be drawn upon to ensure that its energy security require-
ments are addressed.’8Japan set up its first foreign military base since World War II
in Djibouti in July 2011, allowing Japanese aircraft to conduct patrols over the Indian
Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.9
However, the world power balance is shifting from the West to the East and from
the Atlantic to the Pacific and the IOR. Due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Iraq
and Afghanistan wars, the global financial crisis and the ‘Jasmine Revolution’ in
the Middle East, the comprehensive power of the US has been adversely affected to
some extent. On the contrary, China and India have maintained a steady economic
growth and their comprehensive power has been steadily and rapidly rising. This
kind of power shift will be reflected in the IOR. In particular, the rise of India—the
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626 Chunhao Lou
regional power—has the potential to completely change the current power structure in
the IOR.
India enjoys unique geographic pre-eminence in the Indian Ocean region, more so
than any other country. The Indian peninsula juts about 1,000 miles into the Indian
Ocean and is the ‘only feasible linkage’ between the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea
and the Malacca and the Andaman Straits. Thus, ‘very few nations in the world geo-
graphically dominate an ocean area as India dominates the Indian Ocean’.10 Although
successive Indian governments put almost all their energy into countering threats from
the north after independence, this long neglect of maritime power was reversed when
the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 1998. Since then, backed
by India’s increasing economic power, successive governments have strengthened the
country’s maritime power.
India’s attempt to strengthen its maritime status has gathered decisive pace. This all involves
India’s drive, seen in its 2006 Navy Day of transforming itself from a ‘brown water’ coastal
defence force to a formidable ‘blue water’ fleet.11
Nowadays, India’s rapidly increasing economic power has steadily transformed into
maritime power. The Indian navy is the fifth largest maritime force in the world and
continues to push forward ambitious expansion plans. Admiral Nirmal Kumar Verma,
the chief of the naval staff, stated that ‘by 2025, the IN [Indian Navy] will operate
162 imported and locally designed platforms, including two aircraft carriers and con-
ventional and nuclear-power submarines’.12 Even though the US, together with its
allies France and Japan, will remain the strongest military presence for a long time,
given the trend of power shift it is quite probable that the IOR will get rid of the histor-
ical burden of being dominated by outsiders. Based on its growing maritime power and
geographic advantages, India will definitely play a bigger role in regional affairs. The
US dominance or hegemony in the IOR will transform into US–India–China trilateral
co-existence and interaction. Regional powers—mainly India—have the potential to be
dominant powers for the first time since colonisation. To sum up, India has the potential
to be a dominant maritime power in the IOR and to seek at least ‘limited dominance’
if not ‘absolute dominance’.
Indian Ocean stability will hinge largely on how India manages its maritime rise.
On the one hand, if a robust Indian maritime presence were to fail to materialise, New
Delhi would essentially be forced to surrender its interests in regional waters, leaving
a strategic vacuum for the US and China. On the other hand, if powerful Indian naval
forces were to be used for exclusionary purposes, the region would almost certainly
become an arena for naval competition.13
The potential US–India competition in the IOR
The US and India are the most developed and largest democratic countries, respec-
tively, and their bilateral relations have improved greatly in recent years, partly because
of the China factor. Thus, the mainstream of the US–India relationship nowadays is
cooperation instead of competition. However, in the specific case of the Indian Ocean,
their respective strategic views on the regional power structure are deeply rooted and
these will become more and more obvious in the case of the power shift. Although the
China factor will always be there to promote US–India cooperation, the ‘democratic
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Strategic Analysis 627
peace theory’ will give way to realistic politics, and the differing interests of the US
and India in the IOR will be difficult to reconcile.
There are serious strategic contradictions in the policies of India and the US in
terms of the IOR regional power struggle, and these have existed for a long time.
There were two serious contradictions during the Cold War era. In the 1960s, when
the US wanted to inherit the British influence in the IOR, India was strongly against
‘the theory of power vacuum’ and pushed forward the idea of an ‘Indian Ocean Peace
Zone’. Former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi rejected the ‘theory of power
vacuum’ as:
...a trick of big powers to justify their presence in the region who, however, were compelled
to leave the region due to growing feelings of nationalism in the region and due to their own
politico-economic compulsions. If any vacuum was created it ought to be filled by the local
powers themselves and not by outside powers.14
During the 1971 Indo–Pakistan War, the US dispatched its Seventh Fleet into the
Bay of Bengal, causing great concern on the Indian side. It was observed that ‘Diego
Garcia and the Bengal naval deployment seeped into Indians’ cultural memory—even
among those who know nothing about the sea’.15 ‘Whatever the prospects of a US–
Indian strategic partnership, such memories will give rise to a measure of wariness in
bilateral ties’.16
Of course, the future does not necessarily depend on history, but history does reflect
one country’s strategic thought. Stemming from its own history and geographic loca-
tion, India’s perceptions of the IOR can be summarised as a sense of crisis and destiny.
As to the sense of crisis, Indian politicians and strategists pay great attention to the link-
ages between the Indian Ocean and India’s national security. The pioneer of India’s
maritime power theory, K.M. Panikkar, argued that ‘the peninsular character of the
country (India) and the essential dependence of its trade on maritime traffic give the sea
a preponderant influence on its destiny. The economic life of India will be completely
at the mercy of the power which controls the seas’.17 ‘It may truly be said that India
never lost her independence till she lost the command of the sea in the first decade of
the sixteenth century’.18 Thus, he concluded from the Indian history that ‘the future of
India has been determined not on the land frontiers, but on the oceanic expanse which
washes the three sides of India’.19 India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, said,
‘We cannot afford to be weak at sea. History has shown that whoever controls the
Indian Ocean has, in the first instance, India’s sea-borne trade at her mercy and, in the
second, India’s very independence itself’.20 This kind of strategic thought passes from
the first generation of Indian leaders to the new leadership. In 2005, former chief of
the naval staff Admiral Arun Prakash emphasised that ‘while the heyday of “gunboat
diplomacy” and colonial “spheres of influence” are over, we do believe that whatever
happens in the Indian Ocean Region can impact crucially on our security and should be
of interest to our maritime forces’.21 Almost all Indian defence and naval policy docu-
ments emphasise the inter-linkages between the IOR and Indian national security. In its
Indian Maritime Doctrine, the Indian Navy stressed that ‘the Indian maritime environ-
ment is shaped principally by the geographical contours of the Indian Ocean and by the
historical forces that have impacted upon Indian maritime ventures’.22 In 2007, India’s
Maritime Military Strategy highlighted that ‘even today, whatever happens in the IOR
can affect our national security and is of interest to us’.23 In recent years, because the
26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008 were launched by sea, the Indian government
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628 Chunhao Lou
and military have been compelled to pay more attention to maritime security, both in
the blue ocean and the brown coast.
As to the sense of destiny, India’s unique geographic location bestows on India
the strong aspiration to dominate the Indian Ocean or even to transform it into India’s
Ocean. Many Indian strategists view the Indian Ocean as their ‘rightful domain’ and
think that ‘India will have to play a very large role [in the Indian Ocean] if the prospects
for peace and cooperation are to grow’.24 According to Stephen P. Cohen’s analysis
of several schools of foreign policy thought among Indian elites, the ‘natural right
to dominate its region’ is the most important core strategic thought.25 India’s rapid
economic growth gives great impetus to its aspiration to be a world great power, and
the sense of destiny in ‘rightful domain’ has been reflected frequently in Indian defence
policy documents. The Indian Army Doctrine pointed out that ‘by virtue of her size and
strategic location in the Indian Ocean region, India is expected to play her rightful role
to ensure peace and stability in it’.26 The Indian Navy’s Vision Document stressed that
‘the Indian Navy is determined to create and sustain a three dimensional, technology
enabled and networked force capable of safeguarding our maritime interests on the
high seas and projecting combat power across the littoral’.27 Freedom to Use the Seas:
India’s Maritime Military Strategy emphasised that:
... The Indian Navy, by virtue of its capability, strategic positioning and robust presence
in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), can be the catalyst for peace, tranquillity and stability
in the IOR ...Smaller nations in our neighbourhood as well as nations that depend on the
waters of the Indian Ocean for their trade and energy supplies have come to expect that the
Indian Navy will ensure a measure of stability and tranquillity in the waters around our shores.
Ensuring good order at sea is therefore a legitimate duty of the Indian Navy ...[O]ur primary
maritime military interest is to ensure national security [and] provide insulation from external
In this document, Indian chief of naval staff Admiral Sureesh Mehta emphasised
India’s ‘manifest destiny’ in the Indian Ocean, arguing for India ‘to take its rightful
place in the comity of nations and attain its manifest destiny’.29 For India, a perfect
world would be ‘one in which each major power acted responsibly to keep order and
promote justice in its part of the globe. International politics would be governed by a
group of such mature and responsible states that would be careful not to meddle in the
affairs of other regions’.30
On the other hand, the US seeks hegemonic maritime power worldwide, not only
limited to the Atlantic or Pacific, but also encompassing the Indian Ocean. The US gov-
ernment has clearly stated that ‘the safety and economic security of the US depend in
substantial part upon the secure use of the world’s oceans. The US has a vital national
interest in maritime security’.31 Though stressing the importance of cooperative mar-
itime strategy, the US is still trying to maintain its dominant maritime power, arguing
that ‘the maritime capability and capacity vital to the flexible projection of US power
and influence around the globe must surely be preserved’.32 In accordance with the
shift in the world power balance, the US will seek a sustained forward presence in
the Indian Ocean. As stated by Kaplan, ‘Along with its continued dominance in the
Pacific, the US clearly seeks to be the preeminent South Asian power’.33 According to
some scholars, ‘the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower in effect shifts the
sea services’ geographic gaze. The US navy remains the two-ocean navy it has been
since World War II, but the second ocean (alongside the Pacific) is now the Indian
Ocean, not the Atlantic’.34 In this strategy document, the US emphasised that ‘credible
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Strategic Analysis 629
combat power will be continuously postured in the Western Pacific and the Arabian
Gulf/Indian Ocean to protect our vital interests’.35 The US has taken many measures
to achieve its goal, including strengthening its presence in Diego Garcia and Bahrain,
updating its military cooperation with countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, setting
up forward military networks to control key choke points, and so on. Diego Garcia
plays a very important role in the US’s Indian Ocean policy and ‘reflects an overall
strategy to establish a flexible and enduring presence within a critical and contested
space’.36 Moreover, US strategists argue for the US navy to play the role of ‘balancer’.
Kaplan has stated that:
...even if the comparative size of the US navy decreases in the decades ahead, the United
States will remain the one great power from outside the Indian Ocean region with a major
presence there—a unique position that will give it the leverage to act as a broker between India
and China in their own backyard.37
At present, ‘considering the unchallenged US military presence in Indian Ocean
region, India has no choice but to abide by the US dominance in this region. India pur-
sues limited and relative maritime power in IOR instead of absolute power control’.38
But in future, with the rapid growth of its economic and military power, it will be
possible for India to adopt a more assertive position to gain dominance in the IOR.
‘The strategic “end” is to be the pre-eminent maritime power in the Indian Ocean,
and the “means” to bring about this end is a strong navy that can maintain a capa-
bility for sustained operations in and throughout the Indian Ocean.’39 However, for
the US, ‘to maintain its absolute control over world seas is still the core essential for
US grand strategy, since this dominant control will bestow the US important leverages
worldwide, particularly against other powers’.40 Obviously, there would be a conflict
of strategic interests between the US and India. Moreover, even though the US and
India have some similar concerns regarding the Chinese presence in the IOR, ‘both US
and India are not willing to form an anti-China alliance publicly, since both of them
are not willing to sacrifice decades of cooperation with China, and can not afford con-
frontation with China. The possibility for a US–Indian anti-China alliance still exists,
but this is obviously not two countries’ first choice’.41 Indian strategist Raja Mohan
suggests clearly that a maritime partnership with the US will require India to tackle the
‘fundamental tension’ between ‘India’s declaratory positions on “non-alignment” and
real world “strategic cooperation” with the great power’.42
Chinese entry into the IOR: the over-exaggerated Chinese factor
In recent years military strategists, scholars and reporters have increasingly spoken
about the ‘rising maritime great game’ in the IOR, particularly after China decided to
ramp up its naval military capabilities. ‘Much of the recent discourse has focused on
future Chinese naval ambitions in the Indian Ocean and on potential US responses to
such a new presence.’43 To some extent, the ‘China factor’ is one imperative for the
improvement of US–India relations and their cooperation in Indian Ocean affairs, since
both the US and India are seriously concerned about Chinese entry into the IOR.
China and India lack mutual political trust, stemming from border disputes, the
Tibet issue and ‘third party’ factors. India’s perception of Chinese entry into the
Indian Ocean has been influenced by many factors. As well as India’s own maritime
strategy and her geographic characteristics, the perception is also influenced by the
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630 Chunhao Lou
Indian general perception of the Sino–Indian relationship, that is, how India views a
rising China (Author’s interviews with some Indian strategic scholars in New Delhi,
including Dr. Jabin Jacob from Institute of Chinese Studies on May 13, Dr. C. Raja
Mohan from Center for Policy Research on June 9, Professor M. D. Nalapat on June
18 and Director Dipankar Banerjee from Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies on June
20, 2011).
Thus, India is worried about Chinese entry into the Indian Ocean, suspecting that
China intends to ‘encircle India’. This is termed the ‘String of Pearls’ strategy.44 Even
though some Indian scholars doubt the existence of such a strategy, realising that
Chinese entry into the IOR is mainly a natural extension of interest and influence, the
mainstream mindset is that India should at the very least be cautious about Chinese
inroads into Indian Ocean regional countries. According to the National Maritime
Foundation’s senior researcher Uday Bhaskar, ‘While Chinese leaders and analysts
seek to reject the “String of Pearls” terminology and the concomitant inference about
“containing” India, the phrase itself has acquired considerable tenacity in the security
discourses related to the IOR and China’.45 Some Indian scholars list the ‘China fac-
tor’ and ‘Pakistan factor’ as two potential military threats in the IOR.46 Others have
even outlined tactical options against the ‘String of Pearls’, such as commodity denial
either via sea lane blockade or through the targeted interdiction of Chinese shipping,
sending an expeditionary force into the South China Sea, and signing an Intelligence
Sharing Agreement with the US involving the sharing of maritime satellite-based
surveillance.47 The Indian media rose in a furore over Chinese intentions to ‘split the
Indo-Pacific with the United States’, reporting that ‘a Chinese admiral suggested to
Keating that China and the US split the Pacific Ocean, China controlling the western
portion and the US the eastern waters’.48 But the fact is that Chinese investments in
Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh mainly consist of commercial infrastructure build-
ing instead of military bases. On the contrary, although it is unclear about the real
motives, recent incidents show that India is becoming more interested in South China
Sea affairs, which is a disputed issue among relevant countries, particularly through
Vietnam. It is reported that Chinese and Indian navy ships ‘confronted’ in the South
China Sea, which was widely reported in the two countries’ media.49 Since China
claims ‘indisputable sovereignty’ over the South China Sea, India’s involvement in
this area will definitely affect Sino–Indian relations and Sino–Indian cooperation in
the IOR. The Chinese government has emphasised several times that ‘any country or
company’s oil and gas exploration activity in the waters under China’s jurisdiction
without the permission of the Chinese Government is an infringement upon China’s
sovereignty, rights and interests, and is thus illegal and invalid’.50
In the meantime, the US policy toward China involves ‘engagement’ and ‘contain-
ment’ simultaneously, in spite of the new concepts like ‘responsible stakeholder’, ‘G2’,
etc. In the Pacific region, the US is viewed by China as trying to establish a ‘chain
of military presence’ opposite Chinese coastal areas, through its military presence
in Japan and South Korea, arms sales to Taiwan and military cooperation with some
Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. The US has always been
actively involved in the South China Sea dispute. In 2010, US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton claimed that ‘[the] US has grown increasingly concerned about the competing
claims for territory in the South China Sea’,51 which signalled more US involvement
in this disputed area. The Chinese government and media view such US statements as
‘intervention’, to which they are strongly opposed.52 Chinese Air Captain Dai Xu even
argued that the US is manoeuvring the ‘C-shape encirclement’ against China.53
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Strategic Analysis 631
To conclude, it can be argued that US military deterrence and US interests in the
Asia-Pacific region, including the South China Sea area, have made and will con-
tinue to make China extremely cautious about engaging in actions that might draw
Washington further into the South China Sea disputes.54
In the Indian Ocean region, the US welcomes Chinese participation in anti-piracy
efforts, but takes a cautious attitude towards increasing Chinese naval power. The
phrase ‘String of Pearls’ was itself coined by the US. Thus, the US wants to use India
to balance China, stating that:
India has already established its worldwide military influence through counter-piracy, peace-
keeping, humanitarian assistance, and disaster relief efforts. As its military capabilities grow,
India will contribute to Asia as a net provider of security in the Indian Ocean and beyond.55
Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World even projected a scenario that ‘a lot of lit-
tle incidents led to the Chinese attack on two Indian warships near the Gulf of Oman,
which in turn triggered the US attack disabling the Chinese ships as they tried to with-
draw from the area’.56 Obviously, from the US perspective, China is on one side while
the US and India together are on the other.
However, compared with aforementioned potential US–India competition, the
‘China factor’ mainly exists on paper. The suspicions of many countries regarding
Chinese entry into the Indian Ocean arise from China’s different political system and
astonishing rise, both in scale and speed. But, whether judged by intention, capability
or aspiration, China will not be in any position to compete with the US and India in the
IOR’s power game.
First and foremost, China has the tradition of a peaceful maritime policy. Even
in history when China was a pre-eminent maritime power, it was never offensive but
promoted peace and commerce, as was clearly illustrated during the Ming Dynasty.
Today, Chinese scholars frequently argue that China should and must develop a strong
maritime power, but also emphasise that this is totally different from Western-style
maritime power. The basic aim of Chinese naval power building is to ensure a ‘harmo-
nious sea’ through self-capacity building and international cooperation.57 Liu Mingfu
from the Chinese National Defence University has argued:
The biggest difference between China and the US is that the former pursues ‘powerful but
not hegemonic status’ (Qiang Er Bu Ba), while the latter struggles for hegemony ...[T]he
Chinese goal to challenge the US is to build [a] ‘hegemony-free world’ (Wu Ba Shi Jie).58
The frequently quoted Chinese ‘String of Pearls’ strategy has no basis in fact and
is ‘based more on inferences US observers have drawn from Chinese activities in
the region than on a coherent national strategy codified in Chinese doctrine, strate-
gic commentary, or official statements’.59 Chinese involvement in infrastructure
building—including ports, highways and airports—in IOR littorals is mainly part of
the Chinese enterprises’ ‘going global’ strategy. Actually, judged both from the policy
perspective and in terms of practical feasibility:
... there appears to be no hard evidence that suggests China plans to base warships in
Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or the Maldives, or that these nations even desire a Chinese military
presence. In fact, all three of these nations’ proximity to India and their desires to balance their
relations between India and China indicate that China will not develop military facilities in
these countries.60
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632 Chunhao Lou
Though Professor Shen Dingli has stated that China should have foreign military bases,
which is frequently quoted as the ‘Chinese ambition’, he emphasised that this practice
should strictly abide by three principles: the host country welcomes Chinese mili-
tary presence; the practice is good for regional stability and common interest; and
the host’s neighbouring countries are not against it (Author’s interview with Professor
Shen Dingli by email on June 18, 2011). Recently, even though the Seychelles govern-
ment invited China to set up a military base, the Chinese government has stated clearly
that China would only seek supplies in the Seychelles while participating in anti-piracy
escort missions, instead of setting up a military base.61 As to the development of an
aircraft carrier, Major General Yin Zhuo stated that an ‘aircraft carrier will not change
the defensive nature of Chinese defence policy’.62
Moreover, China views the Indian Ocean as a vital energy and trade route and not as
a battlefield for a power struggle. Chinese seaward policy has strong trade and energy
motives, with its open economy that is more and more interdependent with the outside
world, particularly the Indian Ocean. ‘China’s economic and political interests are no
longer limited to the South China Sea—they have begun to encompass the waters of
the Indian Ocean’.63 Maritime strategist Professor Robert Kaplan argues that ‘given
China’s history as a great civilisational power since antiquity, and its relatively recent
history as a victim of Western colonialism, why would Chinese leaders want to entrust
such a vital defence detail forever to the US navy?’64 On the other hand, China’s strate-
gic focus is the Pacific rather than the Indian Ocean. In the western Pacific, China is
constrained by the American-dominated First/Second Island Chain.65 Chinese entry
into the IOR would break the Malacca dilemma and the US chain of military presence
in the Pacific. Though the Indian Ocean is vital for energy and security, the Taiwan
issue will remain the highest priority in Chinese maritime policy for a very long time.
The Taiwan issue is essentially linked with China’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and
its government’s legitimacy, but the US views Taiwan as an ‘unsinkable aircraft carrier’
against China. This mindset is reflected in the continuing US arms sales to Taiwan and
is detrimental to Sino–US mutual trust. Captain Dai Xu emphasised that ‘at least in the
next 50 years, China should not orient her naval development beyond the line of South
China Sea ...[T]he bottom line for Chinese naval strategy is that Chinese maritime
territory shouldn’t be carved up like history and there will be no room for Taiwan’s
independence’.66 Based on a detailed review of the literatures published during the past
decade, one Chinese scholar concludes that Chinese strategists are mostly concerned
about three maritime issues: Sino–US potential maritime conflicts, the Sino–Japan East
China Sea dispute and the South China Sea dispute.67
Last but not least, China lags far behind the US in maritime power and does
not enjoy the geographic advantages that India does. The leading expert on Chinese
maritime affairs, Andrew Erickson, notes:
While China’s interests in the Indian Ocean region will continue to increase, China’s ability to
use naval power to safeguard those interests will remain limited for now by Beijing’s preoccu-
pation with asserting sovereignty over Taiwan and the rest of its maritime periphery, and India
will continue to be the dominant naval presence in the Indian Ocean.68
Even though the Chinese navy has developed quickly, it still lacks sophisticated equip-
ment and ‘blue water’ experience. However, China can contribute to regional security.
In December 2008, China decided to dispatch naval warships as escorts and patrols in
the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden. The US welcomed the Chinese ships and said that
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Strategic Analysis 633
the ‘Chinese taskforce should join the international effort on a day-to-day operation
Common interests and cooperation
Many realists argue for the inevitable contradiction and conflict between the US, India
and China because they lay more emphasis on their different interests while neglecting
the areas of cooperation. Thus the trilateral relationship is more complex than many
people imagine, with a heavy degree of interdependence. This kind of complexity itself
will put the brakes on the competition between the three countries. Moreover, the three
countries have more and more common interests in a changing world, which will lay
the foundation for their future cooperation.
One important common interest is to maintain regional stability and achieve
regional comprehensive security. Today, regional security threats have become more
diversified, interwoven and are also deteriorating. The IOR is witnessing a more dan-
gerous security situation than ever before, with long-lasting interstate confrontations
and emerging non-traditional, non-state threats. According to the Heidelberg Institute
for International Conflict Research’s Conflict Barometer 2008, ‘146 of the world total
of 345 conflicts, or 42.3%, are in the IOR’, including six of nine wars and a consider-
able proportion of the world’s high-intensity conflicts.70 The Economist describes the
IOR as a region ‘made up of the world’s most dangerous seas’.71
For historical reasons, many interstate and intra-state conflicts have existed in the
IOR for a long time. The Middle East and South Asia have many examples of such
conflicts. In the Middle East region, the Arab–Israeli rivalry is complicated by his-
torical and religious disputes and is too complex to be resolved in the near future.
The Jasmine Revolution, starting from Tunisia and spreading across the Arabic world,
will definitely inject more complexity into regional security situations. This wave of
the ‘Middle East shock’ is far from over and may bring instability to more countries
in the future. In the South Asian peninsula, although both the Indian and Pakistani
governments are making great efforts to improve their bilateral relationship (which is
constrained by terrorism, the Kashmir issue and other disputes), their peace process,
which stalled after the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack and was restarted in 2011, is
likely to see-saw in the foreseeable future. The Indo–Pakistan relationship impedes the
whole South Asia region’s economic integration and development. Since the 9/11 ter-
rorist attacks, the US has become deeply involved in the South Asian region because of
its war on terror, which has achieved little and has further worsened the regional secu-
rity situation. Pakistan’s situation deteriorated quickly after its anti-terrorism alliance
with the US and Afghanistan’s future after the withdrawal of US troops is a big con-
cern. Moreover, in recent years, with the strong shocks of globalisation, financial crisis
and terrorism, many IOR littorals have slipped into political instability and economic
stagnation, are or are on the brink of being failed states, with Somalia and Yemen as
very prominent examples.
The persistent instability in some IOR littoral states has led to the formation
of various non-state organisations, which indulge in piracy, terrorism, drugs and
arms trafficking and other criminal activities. These non-traditional security threats
arise from social and economic instability and further worsen the situation. ‘The
seas flourishing with piracy and breeding maritime terrorism are usually adjacent to
those countries affected seriously by terrorism and domestic instability’, and this is
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634 Chunhao Lou
unfortunately the case with the IOR.72 Most of these non-state threats stem from the
land and become pervasive in the Indian Ocean. The root of these threats will be quite
difficult to address in the near future. The vast ocean also provides these groups with a
‘natural shelter’. Thus, these non-traditional threats will exist for a long period of time
and may become more serious in the near future. What makes the situation worse is
that demographic development in these countries will only mean a bleaker future. The
Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) has pointed out that:
a runaway population creates huge, unmanageable numbers that strains every aspect of gov-
ernance. This has often led to the collapse of states, particularly in the IOR ...[I]f we grade
the regions into high, medium and low risk categories, it is clear from looking at the projected
populations that the regions of Africa and Asia, which mainly constitute the IOR littoral, are
clearly in the high risk category.73
To sum up, the Indian Ocean region is facing more fragmented and diversified security
threats, which may persist for a long time due to current demographic trends. The
Indian Ocean is a ‘sea of troubles’.74
Under these circumstances, as the three most important stakeholders in the Indian
Ocean region, the US, India and China share the responsibility of maintaining regional
stability and progress. Regional instability will only damage their interests. The US is
deeply entangled in its anti-terrorism war, and India is itself plagued by a rough India–
Pakistan relationship and the worsening Pakistani situation. Relatively speaking, China
is not as severely affected by regional instability, although the safety of its energy and
trade route is increasingly facing serious threats. All three countries need to shoulder
responsibilities according to their foreign policies. The two important principles of
Chinese foreign policy are a good neighbourhood and a harmonious ocean, which calls
for China to play a more active role in maintaining regional peace and tranquillity.
As a major regional power, India also needs a peaceful Indian Ocean if it is to progress
towards becoming a global power.
To safeguard the Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs) is another shared interest.
The Indian Ocean can be termed ‘the life line of the global economy’ and is vital to all
three countries’ interests, particularly to ensure the safety of energy and trade routes.
The Indian Ocean boasts large reserves of energy and resources, including oil, gas,
seabed mineral resources and fish. The Middle East is the world’s largest oil produc-
tion and export region; the IOR holds 65 per cent of the known reserves of strategic
raw materials, 31 per cent of the gas and accounts for more than half of the world’s
oil exports. But the resource-consuming countries are far distant from the resource-
producing countries, and all three countries are large resource-consuming countries,
dependent on sea routes to import resources. According to statistics, ‘on Indian Ocean
waters are carried two-thirds of the world’s oil shipments, one-third of bulk cargo traf-
fic and half the world’s container shipments’.75 The United States Energy Information
Administration listed seven choke points as ‘world oil transit choke points’, and four
of them are in the Indian Ocean region—the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca, the Suez
Canal and Bab el-Mandab.76 Obviously, to ensure the safety of SLOCs in the IOR is in
the interest of the US, India and China, since:
...nine important passages provide access into the Indian Ocean, of which five are key energy
SLOCs. Choking any one of them would cause disruption of seaborne trade, and uncontrolled
volatility in oil and commodity prices, leading to upheavals in the global economy.77
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Strategic Analysis 635
The ‘cognisance of the maritime dependency index for energy and anxieties about
secure sea-lines of communication (SLOC) by China and India give rise to a “Malacca
dilemma” and a “Hormuz dilemma” respectively’.78
The biggest or most unpredictable threat to the SLOCs is not interstate and
intrastate conflicts but non-state actors. Terrorism is pervasive in the northern Indian
Ocean; pirates are quite active in the Gulf of Aden: ‘the western reaches of the Indian
Ocean include the tinderboxes of Somalia, Yemen, Iran, and Pakistan—constituting
a network of dynamic trade as well as a network of global terrorism, piracy, and drug
smuggling’.79 ‘These are concerns that are common to all. The navies of the world will
increasingly cooperate and work together, even though they are not part of any military
alliance to combat these concerns.’80 In recent years, all three countries have shown
a willingness to combat these threats together and have already made some progress.
In fact, Indian National Security Adviser Menon even pointed out that:
The threats to energy flows in the Indian Ocean come not from the major powers (such as
India, the USA, China or Japan), all of whom have a shared interest in keeping these sea lanes
working. The immediate threats come from local instability and problems in the choke points
and certain littorals, particularly the Straits of Hormuz and the Horn of Africa. This is a test of
wisdom and is where China and other states can choose to be part of the solution rather than
of the problem.81
Professor Gaye Christoffersen has argued that:
The Somali anti-piracy operation illustrates how the US, Japan and China, and other nations,
working loosely together can create an international public good of SLOC security, based
on the premise of cooperative security, i.e., military cooperation among a mix of allies and
In the battle against non-traditional security threats, the US, India and China should
definitely strengthen cooperation, which will also contain their competition to some
In this process, multinational mechanisms will be helpful in strengthening and
solidifying the trilateral cooperation. The IOR is ‘fragmented from many perspec-
tives, consisting of various small but different countries. No strong power can unite
them as a unique geographic political entity’.83 The lack of regional effective mech-
anisms makes multinational cooperation quite difficult. The complexity of the Indian
Ocean regional security situation calls for more international cooperation, since any
regional mechanisms exclusive of the US and China cannot run successfully. The three
countries can work together to strengthen the already existent mechanisms, particu-
larly the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS) and Indian Ocean Rim Association
for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), providing a platform for strengthening coop-
eration, reducing misunderstandings and resolving disputes. The ‘IOR–ARC’s current
subsidiary forums (the Working Group on Trade and Investment, the Indian Ocean
Rim Business Forum, and the Indian Ocean Rim Academic Group) have produced few
results’.84 In addition, the three countries can consider establishing some sub-regional
or issues-based cooperative mechanisms, in accordance with particular and specific
circumstances, in order to increase the efficiency.
China, India and the US are the three most important stakeholders in the IOR. The IOR
is vital to the three countries’ security and interests, and their interaction will have an
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636 Chunhao Lou
effect on IOR regional stability and prosperity. Thus, all three countries should make
efforts towards cooperation and coexistence.
It is commonly argued that conflicts among the three countries are likely, partic-
ularly with the rise of Chinese maritime power. Such a hypothesis is wrong. In any
future scenario of trilateral interaction, the ‘counter-China’ consideration will not be
strong enough to promote a close US–India relationship, mainly because of their deeply
rooted strategic contradictions in the IOR and partly because neither country is willing
to contain China openly. In the meantime, given the Chinese policy aims, intent and
capability, China cannot afford to challenge both the US and India. Moreover, there
is enough space for the three countries to cooperate for countering security threats.
Thus, due to the interdependent and interwoven trilateral relationship and common
interests in maintaining regional peace and stability, as long as the three countries
adopt a pragmatic policy, the trilateral interaction will be cooperative and competitive
1. Sam Bateman and Anthony Bergin, Our Western Front: Australia and the Indian Ocean,
Australian Strategic Policy Institute, March 2010, p. 8.
2. Robert D. Kaplan, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, Random
House, New York, 2010, p. 134.
3. Though frequently cited, scholars fail to find the exact sentences in Mahan’s work. Some schol-
ars trace this statement to an Italian Guido Gerosa’s Atlas (November 1970, p. 20). See more
in R. Roy-Chaudhury, Sea-Power and India’s Security, Brassey’s, London, 1995.
4. The US, EU and NATO are perceived as ‘the three most important prominent external man-
ifestations of maritime power in the western Indian Ocean’. See Eric V. Thompson, ‘US, EU
and NATO Military Presence in the Indian Ocean Region: The Implications for Stability and
Instability’, in C. Uday Bhaskar and Kamlesh K. Agnihotri (eds.), Security Challenges along
the Indian Ocean Littoral: Indian and US Perspectives, Matrix Publishers, New Delhi, 2011,
p. 33.
5. James R. Holmes, Andrew C. Winner and Toshi Yoshihara, Indian Naval Strategy in the Twenty-
first Century, Routledge, London, 2009, p. 23.
6. US Department of the Navy, Forw ard ......From t he Se a, 1994, p. 2.
7. Bruno de Paiva, “France: National Involvement in the Indian Ocean Region”, Future Directions
International (Australia), Indian Ocean Research Program, 5 December, 2011, p. 2.
8. Ibid., p. 3.
9. Bruno de Paiva, ‘Japan: National Involvement in the Indian Ocean Region’, Future Directions
International (Australia), Indian Ocean Research Program, 29 July 2011.
10. R. Misra, Indian Ocean and India’s Security, Mittal Publications, New Delhi, 1986, p. 19.
11. David Scott, ‘India’s Drive for a “Blue Water” Navy’, Journal of Military and Strategic Studies,
10(2), 2007–2008, p. 1.
12. Jane’s Sentinel Security Assessment—India, 17 October 2011, p. 270.
13. James R. Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, ‘China and the United States in the Indian Ocean: An
Emerging Strategic Triangle?’, Naval War College Review, 61(3), 2008, p. 41.
14. K. Rajendra Singh, Politics of the Indian Ocean, Thomson Press, Delhi, 1974, pp. 182–183.
15. Cited in James R. Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, no. 13, p. 45.
16. James R. Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, no. 13, p. 45.
17. K.M. Panikkar, India and the Indian Ocean: An Essay on the Influence of Sea Power on Indian
History, George Allen & Unwin Ltd, London, 1945, p. 14.
18. Ibid., p. 17.
19. Ibid., p. 7.
20. As mentioned by S. Menon, ‘Maritime Imperatives of Indian Foreign Policy’, Speech at
the National Maritime Foundation, 11 September 2009, p. 2, at
download/Maritime_Imperatives.pdf (Accessed 5 June 2011).
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Strategic Analysis 637
21. Arun Prakash, ‘Shaping India’s Maritime Strategy—Opportunities and Challenges’, speech
at National Defence College, November 2005, at
(Accessed 2 June 2011).
22. ‘The Indian Navy’s Monroe Doctrine?’, IDC Analysis, 11 April 2004, at http://www. (Accessed 2 June 2011).
23. Indian Integrated Headquarters Ministry of Defence (Navy), Freedom to Use the Seas: India’s
Maritime Military Strategy, May 2007, p. 59.
24. ‘Executive Summary’, Conference on India and the Emerging Geopolitics of the Indian Ocean
Region, Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, 17–19 August 2003, at
core/Conference/CR_ES/030819-21ES.htm (Accessed 2 June 2011).
25. Stephen P. Cohen, India: Emerging Power, Oxford University Press, Oxford India Paperbacks,
New Delhi, 2002, p. 63.
26. Indian Headquarters Army Training Command, Indian Army Doctrine, October 2004, p. 6.
27. Indian Integrated Headquarters Ministry of Defence (Navy), Indian Navy’s Vision Document,
May 2006, p. 3.
28. Indian Integrated Headquarters Ministry of Defence (Navy), Freedom to Use the Seas, no. 23,
p. iv.
29. Ibid., p. iii.
30. Stephen P. Cohen, no. 25, p. 55.
31. US Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security, The National Strategy for
Maritime Security, September 2005, p. 1.
32. Gordon England, James L. Johes and Vern Clark, ‘The Necessity of US Naval Power’, The Wall
Street Journal, 12 July 2011, p. 15. England is former secretary of the navy, Johes is former
commandant of the marine corps and Clark is former chief of naval operations.
33. Robert D. Kaplan, Monsoon, no. 2, p. 9.
34. James R. Holmes et al., no. 5, p. 107.
35. US Marine Corps, Department of the Navy, US Coast Guard, Cooperative Strategy for 21st
Century Seapower, October 2007, p. 9.
36. Andrew S. Erickson, Walter C. Ladwig III and Justin D. Mikolay, ‘Diego Garcia and the United
States’ Emerging Indian Ocean Strategy’, Asian Security, 6(3), 2010, p. 215.
37. Robert D. Kaplan, ‘Center Stage for the Twenty-first Century: Power Plays in the Indian Ocean’,
Fore ig n Aff air s, 88(2), 2009, p. 17.
38. Ge Hongliang, Lengzhan hou meiguo de yinduyang zhanlue yanjiu [A Study on the Indian
Ocean Strategy of the United States of America after the Cold War], Master’s thesis, Jinan
University, Guangdong, China, May 2010.
39. David Scott, ‘India’s “Grand Strategy” for the Indian Ocean: Mahanian Visions’, Asia-Pacific
Review, 13(2), 2006, p. 98.
40. Wu Zhengyu, Baquan de luoji: dili zhengzhi yu zhanhou meiguo dazhanlue [The Hegemonic
Logic: Geographic Politics and US Grand Strategy after World War II], Zhongguo Renmin
Daxue Chubanshe, Beijing, 2010, p. 213.
41. Mu YongPeng, Zhongyinmei sanbian guanxi: xingcheng zhong de dongtai pingheng tixi [The
Sino–US–India Trilateral Relationship: Emerging Dynamic Balance System], Shijie Zhishi
Chubanshe, Beijing, 2011, p. 111.
42. C. Raja Mohan, Impossible Allies: Nuclear India, United States, and the Global Order, India
Research Press, New Delhi, 2006, p. 266.
43. James R. Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara, no. 13, pp. 41–42.
44. Gurpreet S. Khurana, ‘China’s “String of Pearls” in the Indian Ocean and its Security
Implications’, Strategic Analysis, 32(1), 2008, pp. 1–39; see also Amit Kumar, ‘A New Balance
of Power Game in the Indian Ocean: India Gears up to Tackle Chinese Influence in Maldives
and Sri Lanka’, IDSA Comment, 24 November 2006.
45. C. Uday Bhaskar, ‘China and India in the Indian Ocean Region: Neither Conflict nor
Cooperation Preordained’, China Report, 46(3), 2010, p. 313.
46. Gurpreet S. Khurana, Maritime Forces in Pursuit of National Security, Institute for Defence
Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 33–40.
47. Iskander Rehman, ‘China’s String of Pearls and India’s Enduring Tactical Advantage’, IDSA
Comment, 8 June 2010.
48. ‘Pacific Command Remains a Force: Keating’, at
gns_keating_pacom_101909/ (Accessed 27 May 2012).
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638 Chunhao Lou
49. Ben Bland and Girija Shivakumar, ‘China Confronts Indian Navy Vessel’, Financial Times,
31 August 2011, at
html#ixzz1ZsWf26gZ (Accessed 1 October 2011).
50. ‘Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei’s Regular Press Conference on September 19, 2011’,
at (Accessed 1 October 2011).
51. Cited in Jay Solomon, ‘US Takes on Maritime Spats’, Wall Street Journal, 24 July 2010, at
(Accessed 5 October 2011).
52. Cheng Guangjin, ‘United States Intervention Brings Waters to a Boil’, China Daily, 18 August
53. Dai Xu, C xing baowei: neiyouwaihuan xia de zhongguo tuwei [C-Shape Encirclement and the
Besieged China], Wenhui Chubanshe, Shanghai, 2010. Though incurring heated debates from
Chinese scholars and military officers, the argument wins strong support from netizens.
54. Lee Lai To, ‘China, the USA and the South China Sea’, Conflicts Security Dialogue, 34(1),
2003, p. 26.
55. US Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review Report, February 2010, p. 60.
56. US National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World, 2008, p. 77.
57. Among others, see Zhang Wenmu, ‘Lun zhongguo haiquan’ [On China’s Maritime Rights],
Shijie Jinji Yu Zhengzhi [World Economics and International Politics], No. 10, 2003, pp.
8–14; Liu Zhongmin, ‘Zhongguo haiquan fazhan zhanlue wenti de ruogan sikao’ [Thoughts
on Maritime Power Development Strategy of China], Waijiao Xueyuan Xuebao [Journal of
China Foreign Affairs University], No. 1, 2005, pp. 69–74; Ye Zicheng and Mu Xinhai, ‘Dui
zhongguo haiquan fazhan zhanlue de jidian sikao’ [Some Thoughts on China’s Maritime Power
Development Strategy], Guoji zhengzhi yanjiu [Studies of International Politics], No. 3, 2005,
pp. 5–17; Sun Lu, ‘Zhongguo haiquan neihan tantao’ [Comments on the Connotation of China’s
Maritime Power], Taipingyang Xuebao [Pacific Journal], No. 10, 2010, pp. 81–89.
58. Liu Mingfu, Zhonguomeng: zhongmei shiji duijue, junren yao fayan [The China Dream:
China–US Conflict and the Views from Military], Chunghwa Books, Hong Kong, 2010,
pp. 27–72.
59. James R. Holmes et al., no. 5, p. 141.
60. Daniel J. Kostecka, ‘Hambantota, Chittagong, and the Maldives—Unlikely Pearls for the
Chinese Navy’, China Brief , 10(23), 2010, p. 10.
61. Ananth Krishnan, ‘No Indian Ocean Military Base: China’, The Hindu, 12 December 2011.
62. ‘Dujia zhuanfang haijun shaojiang Yinzhuo’ [Exclusive Interview with Naval Major General
YinZhuo], Zhongguo Jingji Zhoukan [China Economic Weekly], 8 August 2011, p. 41.
63. C. Raja Mohan, ‘Sino-Indian Naval Engagement’, ISAS Brief, Institute of South Asian Studies,
National University of Singapore, No. 103, 16 April 2009, p. 3.
64. Robert D. Kaplan, Monsoon, no. 2, p. 283.
65. The First Island Chain includes Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia. The
Second Island Chain includes Guam Island, Ogasawara Islands, Yap Islands, Mariana Islands
and Australia.
66. Dai Xu, Haituteng: haiyang, haiquan, haijun yu zhongguo hangkong mujian [China and 21st
Century Sea Power], Newpoint Press, Hong Kong, 2011, p. 15.
67. Shi Chunlin, ‘Jinshinian lai guanyu zhongguo haiquan wenti yanjiu shuping’ [Review of the
Studies on China’s Sea Power in the Past Decade], Xiandai Guoji Guanxi [Contemporary
International Relations], No. 4, 2008, pp. 53–60.
68. Andrew S. Erickson, ‘The Growth of China’s Navy: Implications for Indian Ocean Security’,
Strategic Analysis, 32(4), 2008, p. 670.
69. Mark McDonald, ‘China Sends Naval Task Force on Anti-Piracy Mission’, New York
Times, 26 December 2008, at
18936740.html (Accessed 9 April 2011).
70. Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research, University of Heidelberg, Conflict
Barometer 2008 (17th Annual Conflict Analysis), at
html (Accessed 11 April 2011).
71. ‘Pirates are Terrorizing the High Seas off Africa’s East Coast’, The Economist, 17 June 2008.
72. Zhongguo Xiandai Guoji Guanxi Yanjiuyuan, Haishang tongdao anquan ketizu [CICIR’s
SLOCs Security Project Team], Haishang tongdao anquan yu guoji hezuo [The Safety of
SLOCs and International Cooperation], Shishi Chubanshe, Beijing, 2005, p. 193.
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Strategic Analysis 639
73. Indian Integrated Headquarters Ministry of Defence (Navy), Freedom to Use the Seas, no. 23,
pp. 35–36.
74. Sam Bateman and Anthony Bergin, no. 1, p. 24.
75. Indian Integrated Headquarters Ministry of Defence (Navy), Freedom to Use the Seas, no. 23,
p. 44.
76. The other three choke points are the Bosporus, the Danish Straits and the Panama Canal. See (Accessed 1 June
77. Indian Integrated Headquarters Ministry of Defence (Navy), Freedom to Use the Seas, no. 23,
p. 25.
78. C. Uday Bhaskar, no. 45, p. 311.
79. Robert D. Kaplan, ‘Center Stage for the Twenty-first Century’, no. 37, p. 17.
80. Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy), Indian Maritime Doctrine, 2004, p. 51.
81. S. Menon, no. 20, p. 6.
82. Gaye Christoffersen, ‘China and Maritime Cooperation: Piracy in the Gulf of Aden’, p. 19,
PiracyGulfOfAden.pdf (Accessed 25 December 2011).
83. Liu Xinhua, ‘Lun zhongyin guanxi zhong de yinduyang wenti’ [The Indian Ocean Factor in
Sino-India Relationship], Taipingyang xuebao [Pacific Journal], No. 1, 2010, p. 47.
84. Sam Bateman and Anthony Bergin, no. 1, p. 53.
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... China factor will always be there to promote India and the US cooperation (Lou, 2012). The Trump administration has adopted the term Indo-Pacific and has elevated this region to top regional priority in the National Security Strategy in 2017. ...
In the post-Cold War period, the US and India established a strategic partnership in line with their domestic and international political environment. Most of the literature on the subject covered the converging points of their strategic partnership without giving much attention on their differences. In this backdrop, the focus of the study is not only on the opportunities and prospects of Indo-US strategic partnership but would also identify challenges. Thus, the study covers both converging and diverging points in the forging of their strategic partnership. The first part of the paper discuses Indo-US strategic cooperation vis-à-vis China in the Indo-Pacific region. In the second part the study probes challenges associated with the US contentions vis-à-vis Indo-Russian strategic partnership in defense sector and also highlights the implications of Indo-Russia joint venture in the Arctic region for the US. Furthermore, the paper also covers other independent variables such as Iran and Pakistan factors having implications for dependent variables of Indo-US strategic partnership. The study finds out that some of the main challenges to US strategic cooperation with India include: Russia's domination in Indian defence and commercial market and cooperation in the Arctic region, Indo-Iran cooperation, and Pakistan factors. The study concludes that due to the challenges, the Indo-US Strategic cooperation have not developed into a comprehensive strategic partnership, however, they would continue their cooperation to contain the rise of China and maintaining balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region.
... That is, India, China and the US have common interests in maintaining regional peace and stability in the Indian Ocean Region. 47 However, on the other hand, regional security complexes are intensifying in the South China Sea leading to portrayal of China as an aggressor with the other regional states mainly in a defensive posture. China and Indonesia had a recent sparring over the South China Sea with the latter proclaiming that "Indonesia will deploy US made F-16 fighter jets to ward off "thieves" in an apparent reference to China. ...
The article seeks to investigate how alliance formation and balance of power patterns will unfold in South Asia in the wake of an intensifying geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China. Both the United States (US) and China form an intrinsic part of South Asia’s geopolitical security architecture through their embeddedness with both Pakistan and India. Historically, Pakistan relied on both American and Chinese security assistance in balancing against India while India relied more on the former Soviet Union and the US in its balancing game against Pakistan. As current geopolitical dynamics unfold with the US pivot to Asia, the rivalry and competition between the US and China is intensifying, bringing with it a similar dynamic in South Asia as Pakistan moves closer to China and India consolidates its alliance with the US. The paper concludes that, keeping current global security dynamics into perspective, the relational dynamics between Pakistan and India stands to unfold in a competitive and adversarial balance of power scenario.
... While he does recognize that there are other important players in the IOR, including major powers such as Russia, Japan, France and middle powers like South Korea, Indonesia, Australia and Iran, he emphasizes that the triangle involving the US, China and India will have the widest influence. Meanwhile Lou (2012) argues that given the fact most other states in the IOR are deeply influenced by the US, China and India it would be reasonable to expect triangular relations among these three powers to be the main determinant of regional security. The geopolitical dynamics in the IOR involving the US, China and India will need to be carefully managed in order to safeguard regional stability. ...
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China, in the recent past, has increased its footprint in the Indian Ocean Region under the auspices of ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. This increasing Chinese presence in the region has irked India who views this an attempt to strategically encircle her, with serious implications for its supposed role as a net security provider in the region and its national security To counterbalance Chinse moves in the IOR, India has undertaken several actions, which in turn increases the geopolitical anxieties of China, prompting her to take counter-reactions. This study discusses the rationale behind China’s strategy to move from near-seas to the far-seas. Increasing Chinese presence has made India realize its goal of becoming a major maritime power more aggressively, often taking actions that are perceived as offensive by China, resulting in countermeasures. This has ensued a chain of actions, reactions, and counter-actions among these competing states having far-reaching consequences for the region and the world. This study argues that increasing the Chinese footprint is driven mostly by its economic ambitions and finds that military aspects associated with the BRI are based on perceived threats, as, in reality, China faces many vulnerabilities in the IOR. Therefore, it is unlikely that it will build bases with an offensive intention. Instead, increasing Chinese presence in the region can be attributed to its growing concerns about the security of its SLOCs. Meanwhile, possibilities of cooperation between both India and China and the future of their competition are also analyzed while suggesting some recommendations for both of them. Keywords: Malacca Dilemma, Maritime Security, Indian Ocean Region, BRI, Indo-China rivalry, geopolitical anxieties, SLOCs, the rise of China.
Indian approaches to Chinese studies can be broadly classified into three main perspectives. The first is the Buddhist intellectual tradition, brought to light through the works of Western scholars that created the basis for a common civilization and historical perspective for Sino-Indian relations. The second perspective takes as its basis the common anti-colonial struggles of the late eighteenth and nineteenth century. This created common bonds of solidarity and intellectual calls for Asian civilizations to find common intellectual heritage against the dominant narratives privileging western civilization and intellectual history. The first two perspectives anchor a positive view of China in India and have exercised an influence on Chinese studies as the article will show by highlighting the work of select intellectuals in the field. The final perspective can be classified as a security and strategic perspective, shaped by the evolution of Sino-Indian relations since 1962 and continuing to the present. These see China as a direct security threat and push a narrative of caution and strategic analysis of China instead of one that emphasizes civilization unity and Asian solidarity.
This paper examines the evolving geopolitical developments in the Indo-Pacific region, especially through the lens of an India–US–China trilateral/tripolar framework. At a time when ‘strategic unease’ has become a defining characteristic of the region and ‘security alignments and strategic hedging’ a prevalent diplomatic tendency, this paper captures an evolving trend of convergence in the strategic visions of the three key Indo-Pacific players – India, China and the US, and rising bilateral strategic/defence cooperation between them. Using a constructivist approach, this paper explores the feasibility of a trilateral cooperative framework among the three countries in near future.
China has been experiencing major transformation in its naval strategy and capacity. Starting off in the late 1980s with rapid naval modernisation, China’s naval operation gradually shifts from the overwhelming ‘near seas’ to the more challenging ‘far seas’. This task is not an easy one. Whilst in the ‘near seas’ China has been enjoying relatively naval superiority, naval operations in the ‘far seas’ is more demanding. Assessing China’s naval capability in three areas of naval forces, naval activities and presence, and overseas naval bases throws a light on the discrepancy between actual capability and intention. Three reasons lend explanation for the hurdles China faces in implementing the ‘far-seas operations’. First, China is preoccupied with the geopolitical struggle in the ‘near seas’, namely, Taiwan, Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands dispute in East China Sea, and the South China Sea dispute. Second, China is confronted with the ‘Malacca dilemma’ that shoves it to rethink its naval ambition. Third, the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) already has two major players, the United States and India, with which China has to struggle to pursue its interests. The three reasons combined with lack of naval capability to accommodate an effective ‘far-seas operations’ are accountable for China’s confined strategy in the IOR.
The Indian Ocean is increasingly becoming the point of focus in assessing Asia's future security challenges. As both India and China are building up their naval presence in the Indian Ocean and as China's stakes in the region (protecting its maritime trade) interact with India's aspirations (being the regional dominant power and security provider), tensions are likely to rise. The United States has an established role in the Indian Ocean, and its approach to the contestation between Indian and Chinese interests may play a key role in limiting frictions. These developments have led many analysts to foresee the emergence of a balance of power system in the Indian Ocean region and East Asia which would be comparable to that of nineteenth-century Europe. In presenting the interplay between the three major stakeholders in the Indian Ocean, this paper aims to outline the implications of a balance of power system in the Indian Ocean region and demonstrate that it may not guarantee peace and stability, but, with regard to Organski's ‘power transition’ theory, could lead to quite the contrary.
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As the world's economic and strategic “center of gravity” shifts from the Euro-Atlantic area to the Asia-Pacific, the Indian Ocean is emerging as an increasingly critical trade and energy conduit. This region has long been a strategic backwater for the United States. Moreover, unlike in other critical subregions of Asia, the United States lacks significant host-nation bases and is unlikely to acquire them. The British territory of Diego Garcia, whose location and political reliability give it significant strategic utility, is thus central to US power projection in the Indian Ocean littoral region. The US military's approach to Diego Garcia reflects an implicit Indian Ocean strategy that seeks to establish a flexible and enduring presence within a critical and contested space. However, Washington needs to move toward an explicit Indian Ocean policy that views the region holistically rather than narrowly viewing separate US Pacific Command, US Central Command, and US Africa Command theaters.
Already the world's preeminent energy and trade interstate seaway, the Indian Ocean will matter even more in the future. One reason is that India and China, major trading partners locked in an uncomfortable embrace, are entering into a dynamic great-power rivalry in these waters-a competition that the United States, although now a declining hegemon, can keep in check by using its navy to act as a sea-based balancer.
This is the first academic study of India's emerging maritime strategy, and offers a systematic analysis of the interplay between Western military thought and Indian maritime traditions. By a quirk of historical fate, Europe embarked on its Age of Discovery just as the main Asian powers were renouncing the sea, ushering in centuries of Western dominance. In the 21st century, however, Asian states are once again resuming a naval focus, with both China and India dedicating some of their new-found wealth to building powerful navies and coast guards, and drawing up maritime strategies to govern the use of these forces. The United States, like the British Empire before it, is attempting to manage these rising sea powers while preserving its maritime primacy. This book probes how India looks at the sea, what kind of strategy and seagoing forces New Delhi may craft in the coming years, and how Indian leaders may use these forces. It examines the material dimension, but its major premise is that navies represent a physical expression of a society's history, philosophical traditions, and culture. This book, then, ventures a comprehensive appraisal of Indian maritime strategy. This book will be of interest to students of sea power, strategic studies, Indian politics and Asian Studies in general. © 2009 James R. Holmes, Andrew C. Winner and Toshi Yoshihara. All rights reserved.
China and India have divergent political ideologies, characteristics, aspirations, anxieties, and hence their strategic perceptions and orientations differ. Their strategic interaction in southern Asia has for its backdrop the 1962 border conflict. In terms of maritime security, the Pacific–Indian Ocean continuum has become the centre of gravity post-9/11 with both China and India having long-term growth trajectories in terms of naval power, a process skewed in favour of the PLA Navy (PLAN). Cognisance of the maritime dependency index for energy and anxieties about secure sea-lines of communication (SLOC) by China and India give rise to a ‘Malacca dilemma’ and a ‘Hormuz dilemma’ respectively. The firm belief at the politico-military apex that Beijing’s future strategic profile and relevance is inexorably linked with its naval capability gives the PLAN a steadily increasing footprint in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Active political engagements and long-term port investments in the IOR by Beijing, though presented as benign, trigger concerns in India. These equations are influenced by a three-tiered strategic subalternity in Asia between the US (and its allies), China and India. The manner in which contested territoriality between the Asian neighbours will be resolved is the key on which future outcomes depend. While this may point towards China acquiring a military edge in the IOR, for India prudence, restraint and capacity-building remain vital.
The PLA Navy (PLAN)’s capabilities in key areas (assets, trained personnel, experience) are currently insufficient to support long-range sea lanes of communication (SLOC) defense missions. With sufficient effort, Beijing may eventually overcome these obstacles, but it would probably also have to acquire some form of overseas basing access, which its foreign policy still proscribes. As it works to bridge this gap, China will use ‘soft power’ diplomacy, trade, humanitarian assistance, and arms sales to increase its influence in the region, thereby preserving the possibility of cooperation with major regional and international actors.
China's efforts to build ‘nodes’ of influence in the Indian Ocean Region have been increasingly discernible in recent years. This endeavour, many argue, is driven by Beijing's military-strategic ends. However, such an argument remains a speculation, backed by frail and somewhat disjointed evidence. At least in the public domain, it may be too early to marshal tangible evidence to prove or dismiss the hypothesis. An assessment is nonetheless crucial because notwithstanding China's legitimate interests in the Indian Ocean, its naval presence in these waters would bear strongly upon the security calculi of India in particular and those of other major powers. From the study of available information, this paper attempts to derive China's objectives in the Indian Ocean, its approach and the attendant security ramifications for India.