Indian Ocean Strategic Analysis Paper Tech

String of Pearls Redux: China, India and a Cambodian Base

String of Pearls Redux: China, India and a Cambodian Base

Key Factors

  • China is setting up a vacationer resort at Koh Kong, on the Cambodian coast.
  • Given its earlier historical past of such tasks, the resort might, sooner or later, present China with a dual-use facility.
  • A future Chinese language base at Koh Kong might additionally scale back the benefits that India’s deliberate base at Sambang, in Indonesia, is meant to offer.
  • If Myanmar have been additionally to permit China to assemble a base at Kyaukphyu, any battle between China and India would possible happen nearer to the Indian mainland, which might be harmful for India.


A earlier FDI paper examined the difficulty of China probably underwriting the development of a canal throughout the Thai isthmus. The so-called Kra Canal, if constructed, would give China yet one more various route for its power imports from Africa and the Center East, thereby enabling it to bypass the Malacca Strait chokepoint. The Malacca Strait, Beijing’s “Malacca Dilemma”, is a strategic vulnerability as a result of, within the occasion of a battle with, as an example, India, that route might be blocked off to China, thus disrupting its power flows and hindering its means to wage conflict. It’s this example that has induced China to hunt various routes for its power imports, which might clarify to a big extent its drive to realize entry to ports at Gwadar in Pakistan and Kyaukphyu in Myanmar.

India stays cautious, nevertheless, of China’s actions within the Indian Ocean area. It’s particularly cautious in regard to the so-called “String of Pearls”, the varied ports across the Indian Ocean to which Beijing has entry or has developed and which might be used to include India. As with China’s Belt and Street Initiative, the String of Pearls, New Delhi fears, could possibly be used as a geopolitical instrument to venture Chinese language energy and affect within the area and past in addition to include India.


The FDI paper referred to beforehand emphasised the purpose that a canal throughout the Thai isthmus would, along with permitting China to bypass the Malacca Strait, give it larger entry to the Indian Ocean. Such a canal, mixed with the best to handle a future port or base located at its Indian Ocean entrance, would give China the power to miss India’s mixed army base at Port Blair within the Andaman Islands and probably negate its effectiveness. Whether or not Thailand would comply with the development of that canal, not to mention give China the proper to handle it and to construct a base on its territory is uncertain and can stay a longer-term merchandise on China’s geopolitical want listing.

By much more attainable and instant is its affect over Cambodia. The nation’s Prime Minister, Mr Hun Sen, who likes to be referred to as Lord Prime Minister and Supreme Army Commander, has beforehand castigated the West for tying provides of help to calls for that the nation strikes in the direction of liberal democracy. As he has requested rhetorically, ‘The Chinese language leaders respect me extremely and deal with me as an equal’, including, ‘Let me ask these of you who’ve accused me of being too near China, what have you ever provided me apart from cursing and disciplining me and threatening to place sanctions on me?’ It isn’t shocking, then, that China helps his growing authoritarianism. Beijing’s investments in Cambodia rose from US$600 million in 2012 to US$1.08 billion in 2016 or half of all overseas funding over that interval, consequently, in accordance with Cambodian authorities figures.

The Prime Minister has, however, sought to deflect criticism that Cambodia might turn into a vassal state of China. On the ground-breaking ceremony originally of March this yr for a Chinese language-funded hospital in Tboung Khmum province, he said that he understood China ‘very nicely’ and that China had no intention of ‘taking up different nations’. He went on to say:

I say this in entrance of the Chinese language ambassador: Cambodia won’t ever permit China to occupy it, however China additionally has no intention to occupy Cambodia. China’s strategy to overseas coverage is that it doesn’t need to management any nations. China solely needs to develop friendships around the globe.

On 22 March, work started on the development of Cambodia’s first expressway; it was, once more, Chinese language-funded to the tune of US$2 billion. The near-two-hundred-kilometre-long street, which is being constructed by the China Street and Bridge Company and is part of China’s formidable Belt and Street undertaking, will join Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, a resort city and seaport on the Cambodian south coast.

Provided that degree of funding, it ought to return as no shock that China would search to insure its funding in Cambodia. The Hun Sen Administration has since granted round 45,000 hectares of prime actual property and 20 per cent of its shoreline to a personal Chinese language firm, Union Improvement Group, allegedly for the development of a US$three.eight billion vacationer resort, all for the paltry lease of US$1 million a yr. Whereas Phnom Penh holds to the story of the vacationer resort, satellite tv for pc pictures obtained from the European Area Company present that the runway for the location’s proposed airport is way longer than that required for civilian plane. At three,400 metres in size, the runway is longer than that at Phnom Penh airport and sufficiently lengthy sufficient to serve any plane within the Chinese language Air Pressure.

The administration’s denial that the resort’s deepwater port could possibly be used to berth Chinese language naval ships, moreover, has led to hypothesis that the complete challenge might serve a twin objective. As one analyst famous, moreover, senior officers within the Hun Sen Administration had indicated to him that Cambodia is ‘shifting in the direction of the tacit approval of a naval base on a 99-year land concession in Koh Kong’.

In January of this yr, three naval ships from the 30th Chinese language Naval Escorting Fleet, two missile frigates and a provide ship, docked at Sihanoukville. Responding to a letter from US Vice-President Mike Pence in November final yr, which expressed concern relating to the army features of the vacationer improvement, Mr Hun Sen stated:

I affirm that the structure of Cambodia doesn’t permit any overseas army bases within the Kingdom, nor does it permit Cambodian armed forces to go overseas outdoors the United Nations’ framework. This isn’t solely a problem for Cambodia, however might be of concern to neighbouring nations if this propaganda continues. I hope that these evil rumours will stop.

If China’s “cabbage slicing” precedent relating to its army installations is any information, nevertheless, that denial would match into a longtime sample for simply such an end result. Within the South China Sea, for example, Beijing initially denied that it had any plans to assemble synthetic islands there. When it began setting up bases on these islands, Beijing claimed that they have been for humanitarian functions solely. It later started setting up hangars and putting in army amenities on these islands, claiming that these actions have been pushed by threats to China. The bottom at Koh Kong might comply with that precedent. In each occasion, Beijing invests in a rustic’s infrastructure (Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Djibouti are prime examples), then allows a Chinese language firm to accumulate seafront property that, it claims, is for a business or humanitarian function.

A army base in Cambodia would offer Beijing with a number of robust benefits. It might improve China’s footprint in Cambodia and prolong its affect in South-East Asia. It might additionally allow China to watch and probably management maritime visitors from the Malacca Strait into the South China Sea with out having to overly depend on ships based mostly at Hainan Island. If a canal throughout the Thai isthmus have been truly constructed, furthermore, a army base in Cambodia might supply China the power to watch it with out having to construct a base on Thailand’s west coast in addition to one on its east coast, thus mitigating any Thai considerations. Even when a canal isn’t constructed, a base in Cambodia would allow China to maintain watch over Thailand’s increasing army workouts with the US.

There’s a additional cause why China would want to have a base in Cambodia, nevertheless. Following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s go to to Indonesia in 2018, the 2 nations agreed on a “shared imaginative and prescient of maritime co-operation within the Indo-Pacific”. That settlement was in line with India’s Act East coverage, in line with which it sought to reinforce its relationships with South-East Asian nations. Consistent with that goal, India has developed its buying and selling relations with the area. In mild of China’s financial and army rise, nevertheless, New Delhi realises that it must hedge towards China’s elevated presence in South-East Asia and the japanese Indian Ocean.

India has reached an settlement with Indonesia, subsequently, to develop a deepwater port at Sabang, an island off the northern tip of Aceh Province. Sabang lies on the Indian Ocean entrance to the Malacca Strait. Coupled with India’s rapidly-developing army base at Port Blair within the Andaman Islands, Sabang might present India with the unsurpassed potential to watch maritime visitors via the Malacca Strait and, if required, exert a level of management over that visitors. Whereas Sabang is portrayed by India as having a decidedly business function, it’s troublesome to disclaim its dual-use facility. A Chinese language base in Cambodia – at Koh Kong – might, nevertheless, negate a number of the benefit that Sabang presents India. If Myanmar have been, sooner or later, to allow China to assemble a base at Kyaukphyu – which isn’t altogether unattainable – that benefit could possibly be additional decreased. The state of affairs might develop into a trigger for concern for India, furthermore, as any future battle with China, can be carried out nearer to the Indian mainland. In such a battle, India would then face a two-front struggle with China and, very probably, a 3rd, concurrently, towards Pakistan.

It’s to be borne in thoughts that such a state of affairs is speculative. Technique is predicated to a big extent, nevertheless, on simply such ahead planning. India’s rising competitors with China, which can doubtless be performed out within the Indian Ocean, is a reality, simply as are its future base in Sabang and China’s in Koh Kong. Given the very troublesome circumstances during which China presently finds itself vis-à-vis the commerce conflict with the US, its cooling financial system, the creating technological Chilly Conflict with the US and, arguably most significantly, its rising lack of face, Beijing will very probably really feel the necessity to undertake an motion to show that it stays a serious energy. The bottom at Koh Kong could possibly be simply the instrument it requires to try this. India is ill-equipped presently to pose any real looking financial or army problem to China. Whereas China’s GDP is round US$14 trillion every year, India’s is round US$2.three trillion; the place China’s overseas trade reserves are round US$three trillion, India’s are at US$400 billion or so. China’s GDP per capita is roughly US$9,000 whereas India’s is under US$2,000. India would wish to develop its financial system by 40 per cent every year to match China’s in actual phrases. China’s army finances, equally, is round US$250 billion whereas India’s is about US$55 billion. China, nevertheless, has its personal set of issues; excessive debt, which runs to round 280 per cent of GDP, and a risky, unpredictable and transactional US President being solely two of these.

India wants extra overseas funding, know-how transfers and political help whether it is to have the ability to problem China – as it’ll certainly search to do sooner or later sooner or later, given their overlapping objectives. It might be to its benefit, then, to forego its coverage of strategic autonomy these days and formulate a stronger relationship with China’s different rivals, together with america, till such time as it could actually realistically stand as much as China. Constructing bases is just half the battle; possessing and utilising financial, political and army belongings is equally essential if these bases are to be utilised optimally.



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