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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 2/2/17

Game-changers ahead on the (long) Maritime Silk Road

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Needless to add, the proverbial "concern" with this Chinese win-win was registered in both Delhi and Washington. The possibility that China will eventually acquire a permanent naval military base in the Indian Ocean is a full-time obsession of US Think Tankland. Colombo, though, has always been adamant: Chinese-financed infrastructure does not imply basing rights for the Chinese Navy.

In fact, any Chinese move -- from leasing a Maldives island for 50 years for US$4 million to building a military base in Djibouti (officially a base for "technical and logistical support" to the Chinese Navy) by the end of 2017, close to the Americans and the French, is a source of "concern."

Where China in South Asia is concerned, the Pentagon/Naval War College always fall back to the "string of pearls" threat. Especially now with the Maritime Silk Road, a "string of pearls" is a categorical imperative for Beijing. But that does not imply Chinese military hegemony.

For Beijing, conscious of cost-efficiency, the logistical nightmare of maintaining naval bases in foreign lands far, far away from the Middle Kingdom is definitely not a win-win. So the notion of having a Chinese carrier battle group in the Indian Ocean ready to confront the Indian Navy is idle geostrategic speculation. The very long game is all about establishing key trade nodes for the Maritime Silk Road.

I got a naval offer you can't refuse

It will be fascinating to watch how mechanisms such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) develop.

Let's see what Delhi -- deeply committed to an official Make in India campaign -- may offer in the way of "free" markets to Nepal (which is leaning towards China), Bangladesh (always in a complex relationship with Pakistan) and Sri Lanka.

Since 2008, China has been India's largest trading partner. China and India will be involved in deeper cooperation inside the BRICS, and in managing the New Development Bank (NDB). Moreover, India is about to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The notion of Delhi reigning supreme in the Indian Ocean is misguided. From now on, with the emphasis on the Maritime Silk Road, it will be more a case of serious India-China economic competition and/or cooperation, as both countries invest in the protection/expansion of their extensive, complex supply chains.

The Pentagon, under James "Mad Dog" Mattis, will, of course, be watching closely. India's NDTV recently reported that the US Pacific Command had tacitly admitted the obvious: that the US and India are sharing intel on Chinese warships and submarines in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, there was a hint that Beijing could deploy a carrier battle group in the Indian Ocean today if it saw fit.

It's unlikely Beijing will accept the challenge -- just to be slapped with more charges of "Chinese aggression" and "threatening freedom of navigation." Better invest in non-stop, cumulative Maritime Silk Road deals.

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)
 

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