India has expressed concern over the Chinese built Pakistani port of Gwadar. Indian Naval Chief, Admiral Sureesh Mehta said last week that the Gwadar port has "serious strategic implications for India."
"Being only 180 nautical miles from the exit of the Straits of Hormuz, Gwadar, being bulit in Baluchistan coast, would enable Pakistan take control over the world energy jugular and interdiction of Indian tankers," he said.
Admial Mehta’s statement coincides with the handing over of the port’s management to Singapore Port Authority which last year won a bid to operate the port for 40 years, and the government has exempted it from corporate tax and all import duties on equipment and machinery. China did not bid to operate the port.
Borrowing a page from US Colonel Christopher J. Pehrson’s study called: String of Pearls: Meeting the Challenge of China's Rising Power Across the Asian Littoral, Admiral Mehta said that China is seeking to set up bases and outposts across the globe, strategically located along its energy lines, to monitor and safeguard energy flows.
Col. Pehron argues that the "String of Pearls" describes the manifestation of China's rising geopolitical influence through efforts to increase access to ports and airfields, develop special diplomatic relationships, and modernize military forces that extend from the South China Sea through the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and on to the Arabian Gulf.
A question posed by the "String of Pearls" is the uncertainty of whether China’s growing influence is in accordance with Beijing’s stated policy of "peaceful development," or if China one day will make a bid for regional primacy, Col Pehron said and added: “This is a complex strategic situation that could determine the future direction of the China’s relationship with the United States, as well as China’s relationship with neighbors throughout the region.”
Gwadar port, the third deep-sea port of Pakistan, seems to be of no major use to Pakistan as there is no need of a feeder port in Balochistan deserts. Moreover, the two existing ports in Karachi (Karachi port and Bin Qasim port) are also expanding their operations. Hence, many experts believe that Gwadar port has a strategic value although it will bring economic prosperity to this barren region as a by-product.
Why the new emerging economic superpower China has invested heavily in this project? China doesn’t have any port of hot waters, which can be used the whole year. The Shanghai port is approximately 16,000 km away from Chinese industrial areas and sea travel takes an additional two to three months. This costs them a lot in the form of taxes and duties as well. Compared to this, Gwadar port is only at a distance of 2,500 km from China and the port will be working the whole year because of its hot waters.
China’s decision to finance the construction of Gwadar port and coastal highway linking the port to Karachi will help its plans to develop western China. The distance from Kashgar to Chinese east coast ports is 3,500 km, whereas the distance from Kashgar to Gwadar is only 1,500 km. The cost benefits to China of using Gwadar as the port for western China’s imports and exports are as evident as the long-term economic benefits to Pakistan of Gwadar becoming a port for Chinese goods.
Surely, China's interest in Gwadar is motivated by the latter's strategic location. Gwadar is just 72km from the Iranian border and 400km east of the Strait of Hormuz, a major conduit of global oil supplies. China's massive involvement in the Gwadar project - it has provided most of its funding and technical expertise - has provided Beijing with a "listening post" from where it can "monitor US naval activity in the Persian Gulf, Indian activity in the Arabian Sea, and future US-Indian maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean", according to Zia Haider, an analyst at the Washington-based Stimson Center.
Other "pearls" that China has been developing are naval facilities in Bangladesh, where it is developing a container-port facility at Chittagong; in Myanmar, where it is building radar, refit and refuel facilities at bases in Sittwe, Coco, Hianggyi, Khaukphyu, Mergui and Zadetkyi Kyun; and in Thailand and Cambodia.
The new Chinese plans have rung alarm bells in India and the US too. India feels that it is encircled by China from three sides - Myanmar, Tibet and Pakistan. To counter Sino-Pak collaboration, India has brought Afghanistan and Iran into an economic and strategic alliance.
Following the Chinese ambitions in the region, India has pursued closer military ties with the US and issued a new naval doctrine stressing the need of protecting energy routes and responding to Beijing’s inroads into the Arabian Sea.
To counter the Gwadar port that is also called the Chinese Gibraltar by Washington, India has built Chabahar port in Sistan-Balochistan province of Iran - just adjacent to Gwadar. India is also helping Iran in building a 200km road that will connect Chabahar with Afghanistan.
It will provide access via land to the port for their imports and exports to and from Central Asia. Presently, India is in urgent need of a shorter transit route to quickly ship its trade goods to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
Sri Lankan connection
China moved into India’s backyard when it signed an agreement with Sri Lanka in March 2007 to develop Hambantota Development Zone, which includes a container port, a bunkering system, an oil refinery, an airport and other facilities. It is expected to cost about US$1 billion and the Chinese are said to be financing more than 85% of the project. The entire project is scheduled to be completed in the next 15 years.
The Chinese role in the Hambantota project is not just about influence in Sri Lanka, it is about China's presence close to Indian shores, which has implications for India's security. With Hambantota, Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean has been further consolidated.
The Hambantota port project is the latest in a series of steps that China has taken in recent years to consolidate its access to the Indian Ocean and to secure sea lanes through which its energy supplies are transported.
The sea-lanes of Indian Ocean have become vital for India's expanding global trade. They carry fossil fuels so vital for India's ever increasing energy needs. India sees Sri Lanka as a sentinel of its security astride the Indian Ocean. Indian navy's development as a blue water navy is on the cards to protect its maritime and economic interests.
The US-India agreement to jointly patrol the Indian Ocean from the Red Sea to the crucial Malacca Straits is one reflection of this – especially when viewed in the light of the Indian naval exercises in the South China Sea and the establishment of India’s Far East Command in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The US Congress report about US-India Relations has pointed out that some analysts have lauded increased U.S.-India security ties as providing potential counterbalance to growing Chinese influence in the region.