‘India, US need to partner to balance China in Indian Ocean’

WASHINGTON: With China increasing its military power and influence in the strategically crucial Indian Ocean, a noted American expert has urged the Obama administration to partner India to balance and counter Beijing’s increasing influence in the region.

As the Indian Ocean is becoming increasingly important to China’s economic and security interests, Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation said that Beijing appears to be pursuing what has been widely known as a “string of pearls” strategy of cultivating India’s neighbours as friendly states, both to protect its economic and security interests and to balance a “rising India”.

With Chinese influence in the region growing, it is essential that the US not fall behind in the Indian Ocean, but maintain a steady presence in the region, both to signal its resolve to stay engaged and to avoid the difficulties of reentering a region, Cheng wrote.

He said for the foreseeable future, Chinese strategic planners will need to pay increasing attention to China’s Indian Ocean flank.

In the short term, Beijing is concerned about its growing dependence on the sea lanes of communications for sustaining China’s economic growth.

In 2010, for the first time, China imported more than 50 per cent of its oil consumption. Chinese President Hu Jintao has already raised the issue of the Malacca Strait.

“There is little question that it is a key choke-point on China’s oil supply routes. Part of China’s interest in developing alternative ports and pipelines, such as in Pakistan and Burma, would seem to be motivated by a desire to reduce the criticality of the Malacca Strait,” he said.

“Even if China’s oil lifeline did not have to transit the Strait of Malacca, it would nonetheless traverse significant portions of the Indian Ocean. The growth of the Indian navy means that Chinese economic development is potentially at the mercy of India, as well as the United States. The forging of Indian security links with Japan and the United States is therefore a source of concern,” he noted – Timesofindia