Washington: With China increasing its military power and influence in the strategically crucial Indian Ocean, a noted American expert has urged the Obama administration to partner India to balance and counter Beijing`s increasing influence in the region.
As the Indian Ocean is becoming increasingly important to China`s economic and security interests, Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation said that Beijing appears to be pursuing what has been widely known as a "string of pearls" strategy of cultivating India`s neighbours as friendly states, both to protect its economic and security interests and to balance a "rising India".
With Chinese influence in the region growing, it is essential that the US not fall behind in the Indian Ocean, but maintain a steady presence in the region, both to signal its resolve to stay engaged and to avoid the difficulties of re-entering a region, Cheng wrote.
He said for the foreseeable future, Chinese strategic planners will need to pay increasing attention to China`s Indian Ocean flank.
In the short term, Beijing is concerned about its growing dependence on the sea lanes of communications for sustaining China`s economic growth.
In 2010, for the first time, China imported more than 50 percent of its oil consumption. Chinese President Hu Jintao has already raised the issue of the Malacca Strait.
"There is little question that it is a key choke-point on China`s oil supply routes. Part of China`s interest in developing alternative ports and pipelines, such as in Pakistan and Burma, would seem to be motivated by a desire to reduce the criticality of the Malacca Strait," he said.
"Even if China`s oil lifeline did not have to transit the Strait of Malacca, it would nonetheless traverse significant portions of the Indian Ocean. The growth of the Indian Navy means that Chinese economic development is
potentially at the mercy of India, as well as the United States. The forging of Indian security links with Japan and the United States is therefore a source of concern," he noted.
This is likely an essential part of what is driving Chinese efforts to cultivate India`s neighbours as friendly states, beyond the "string of pearls" strategy that China is said to entertain for the Indian Ocean region, Cheng wrote.
"That is, China is more intent on cultivating close ties, including but not limited to military ties, with the various South Asian states than necessarily focusing on surrounding and isolating India. The latter is simply a byproduct of the larger goal of ensuring that China`s southern flank and the attendant oil lifeline are secure and populated by friendly states," he said.
Balancing India is likely to be a growing Chinese concern, not simply for the security of China`s oil lifeline, but also because of India`s overall growth.
"Just as the US is concerned about a `rising China` and how to deal with a growing Chinese economy that provides substantially more wherewithal for a variety of purposes, so Chinese leaders are confronted with the potential of a `rising India`," the expert added.