Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Unstringing China's strategic pearls

Unstringing China's strategic pearls: "By Billy Tea


Ever since the publication of the Washington Post's alarmist article, journalists and researchers have hyped China's intentions in the Indian Ocean. For example, Commander Kamlesh Kumar Agnihotri, a research fellow at New Delhi's National Maritime Foundation, penned a paper in February 2010 entitled: 'Chinese Quest for a Naval Base in the Indian Ocean - Possible Options for China' that weighs and outlines China's supposed 'global power projection thinking'. Retired Indian army Brigadier S K Chatterji painted a more threatening portrait of China's involvement with South Asian countries in his September 2010 article 'Chinese String of Pearls could Choke India'.

Strategic commerce
In analyzing China's supposed strategic 'pearls', three key characteristics stand out. First and foremost, China does have some involvement in the identified ports. But with the exception of Sri Lanka's Hambantota and perhaps Myanmar's Sittwe, they are used not only by China and there are currently no signs whatsoever of any developments for future military purposes.

Second, while there is no denying that China has an interest in building relations with strategically located countries, it is important to understand the great power context these countries face. To openly side with China over other regional powers, including India and the United States, would be extremely risky diplomacy for these smaller countries.

Indeed, in today's globalized world, choosing one great power's side over another's unnecessarily limits countries' economic and political options. That's especially true for less-developed countries like Myanmar, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka - all of which are reliant on foreign trade, aid and investment and for development purposes need all they can get. In the current geopolitical context, countries stand to gain the most by subtly playing great power off one another, rather than committing to one in particular.

Third, government officials in the respective 'pearl' countries have openly repudiated reports they have given China any preferential treatment and that Beijing is quietly building and/or planning to build military bases in their sovereign territories.

Billy Tea is a strategic analyst. He may be reached atteabilly@hotmail.com

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