What is the Theory of String of Pearls?

China’s continued economic development is dependent on secure routes for energy supplies and the movement of its trade through the Indian Ocean region. In order to mitigate this vulnerability, China has acquired a ‘blue-water’ navy and developed a number of military and civilian seaports in the Indian Ocean region, enabling it to exercise increased maritime influence on the sea lines of communication (SLOCs) within and through the region. This strategy, of developing a series of ports accessible by its navy, has been referred to by Western security commentators as the geopolitical theory of ‘String of Pearls’.

India’s Countermeasures for China’s String of Pearls

An increased Chinese naval presence in the Indian Ocean and possible military use of these so-called ‘pearls’ suggest that China’s military-strategic intentions include the geographic encirclement of India. India imports 70 per cent of its oil and gas energy requirements and depends on free access to sea routes for its trade to ensure its continued economic development. Against the background of the 1962 war with China, as well as continued border disputes with China and Pakistan along its northern border (and conscious of the expanding strategic relationship between China and Pakistan), India understandably feels compelled to counter China’s growing maritime influence and safeguard its maritime interests in the Indian Ocean.

To counter India has taken several measures which include:

  1. Evolving India’s Look East Policy, which was initially launched as an effort to integrate India’s economy with South East Asian nations, is now turned into a more robust military to military partnership with important nations in that region. Important military and strategic agreements have been made with Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore.
  2. India has agreed to develop Myanmar’s Sittwe port. India has also developed strategic naval relationship with Myanmar to upgrade and train its navy which gives India an increased footprint in the area.
  3. India is also developing bilateral military relationships with key countries in Indian Ocean region which include Australia, Indonesia and Gulf Cooperation Council countries.
  4. India has good relations with IOR countries like Maldives, Mauritius, and Seychelles and is making efforts to strengthen these ties further. India has aided Maldives government with several battleships and Helicopters. India is in talks with Seychelles to create an Indian military base on one of its Islands. India already has a military base in Madgascar which overlooks Mozambique Channel.
  5. India has developed Chhabahar port in Iran, opening a new land sea route to Central Asian countries by-passing Pakistan. Chhabahar give India a strategic postion since it overlooks Gulf of Oman, a very strategic oil supply route.
  6. India has made strategic agreements for military cooperation in the region with Japan, Australia and USA. The four countries carry out joint military exercises in the IOR region and are known as the ‘Quad’
  7. India has also invested a lot diplomatically in countries like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia – all surrounding China.
  8. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recast India’s Look East Policy as Act East Policy with emphasis on developing infrastructure in the East Asian countries.
  9. Bind the countries on the Indian ocean littoral based on the basis of common history and shared culture under the project names ‘Mausam’. By invoking the historical linkage, this is India‟s attempt to remind the 39 littoral countries that there is a shared cultural heritage among us and therefore let us not be influenced by extra-territorial powers.

The response of India to String of Pearls is well planned and timely execution of the planned strategic initiatives would play a key role in making India’s presence in Indian Ocean a strong Leader.