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Eminem asked: What are the strategic and security implications of 'string of pearls' for India?

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  • S.S. Parmar replies: The ‘string of pearls’ theory is often seen as a Chinese attempt to encircle India. However, there are a few imperatives that require to be seen in a holistic manner. The Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) could be seen stemming mainly from their interest in advancing their economic engagement and ensuring safety of their maritime trade, especially oil, as the Indian Ocean is the conduit for Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) flowing from east to west and vice versa. Therefore, in order to establish a presence and ensure protection of their investments and interests in the region, China is engaging IOR nations as it is doing the world over. Whether the ‘string of pearls’ is a threat to India’s interests, especially to what extent, is a debatable issue. Although a matter of concern, it should be viewed in the backdrop of India’s existing standing as a stabilising factor in the security dynamics of the region.

    China’s engagement of nations in the Indian Ocean region, namely Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Maldives and most recently Seychelles is based mainly on infrastructure development and enhancement of diplomatic ties thereby availing of the facilities available for extending what is called the ‘string of pearls’ theory. Recent political events in Myanmar and the US engagement could however dilute the Chinese influence there. However, the strategic and security implications of Chinese engagements in the IOR are tremendous and require to be viewed through multiple prisms ranging from the diplomatic, economic, good will and trust to military balancing. The military balancing aspect is not considered an area of immediate concern and would be driven by the Chinese capability to maintain a sustained military, especially naval, presence in the region.

    Although China’s actions are within the ambit of international law and relations, a fact acknowledged by the Indian defence minister, India should look at a policy that would ensure that its relations and investments with the nations in terms of goodwill and trust earned, defence diplomacy and economics are not reduced by the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean.