China in the Indian Ocean Region: Changing Geopolitics and Challenges

International Conference on China in the Indian Ocean Region

M. Mayilavagnan, Assistant Professor, ISSSP, NIAS

Ramya P.S, Junior Research Fellow, ISSSP, NIAS

The conference was organised by the Centre for Indian Ocean Studies, Osmania University, Hyderabad, on November 13-14, 2014. Ms. Ramya P.S presented the co-authored paper on the topic “China in the Indian Ocean Region: Changing Geopolitics and Challenges”

Abstract of the Talk

With a booming economy China is emerging as a key player in the Indian Ocean Region and possibly as the dominant superpower in Asia-Pacific. The rise of strong, aggressive China has changed the geopolitics in the region as well as the international order. Today, China has become the most important economic partner of Asia countries and their footprints are growing “by leaps and bounds” transforming international relations in a dramatic way. In fact, China’s Indian Ocean ambitions are strategically important for various reasons. Foremost, the Indian Ocean is essential for trade, and especially for increasingly important energy flows. Beijing desires to secure its energy supply that comes from Middle East, Africa and Latin America. The presence of vital offshore, natural resources and the US pivot to Asia along with the rise revitalized Japan and vibrant India have added to its increased focus on Indian Ocean region. The establishment of new naval bases and air-defense zones in the area is a case in point.

The dynamic rise of China poses major challenges to the status quo in the region with consequences for its neighbours and other powers such as the US.  The overall impact of China’s engagement with countries in the region has been both positive and negative, partly as a result of trade and partly due to its belligerent approach. Many countries are apprehensive that their political and strategic interests maybe under threat with the rise of dominant China and its assertive behaviour and are, actually, now adapting to the rising China by forging either closer ties with it or with the US as a countermeasure and alternatively among themselves such as India, Japan etc. On the surface, China’s continuing trouble with neighbours demonstrates that its Indian Ocean seems ambiguous and more rhetoric than reality hence necessitates greater investigation. Therefore, it is well served to analyse how the emergence of China- both economic and military superpower is changing the security dynamics of the Indian Ocean region? What are the consequences of changing geopolitics in region for India? From India’s perspective, how much of a threat is China’s rise in the Indian Ocean region?

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