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Kranti Tejan asked: Is China's new 'Maritime Silk Road' the other name for 'String of Pearls'? And, if so, what are its strategic and economic implications for India?

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  • Abhijit Singh replies: The ‘string of pearls’ is a notional concept that represents Indian fears of a Chinese maritime encirclement of India. The underlying apprehension is that the vast maritime infrastructure that China is establishing in the Indian Ocean may be used as naval logistics and resupply bases to facilitate a broad expansion of Chinese military influence and interests in the region.

    The Maritime Silk Road (MSR) is a more substantive proposal by China to develop maritime infrastructure and connectivity in the Indian Ocean and the Western Pacific. While firm details of the project aren’t yet in the public domain, China apparently plans to develop maritime nodes that will help enhance trade and sea-connectivity and assist substantially in the development of local economies. China has approached Southeast Asian states and nations on the Eastern Indian Ocean rim, touting the project as one of enormous benefit to host nations and regional economies (reference my previous response available at

    The Chinese state-owned Xinhua News Agency is said to have recently revealed some information about the MSR and its corresponding territorial project – the Silk Road Economic Belt. Proposed to begin in the Fujian Province in southern China, the MSR is planned to snake its way across the Malacca Strait and cross the Indian Ocean onto Nairobi, Kenya, from where it is intended to move north around the Horn of Africa, crossing the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, to finally end at Venice.

    Even though it does not presently appear to be the case, it may well turn out that China eventually develops centers in the Indian Ocean that are part of the putative ‘string of pearls.’ Beijing, however, has also made a proposal for New Delhi to join the project and allow development of infrastructure on India’s eastern coast (Kolkata). In the event, it appears, India may be co-opted in the project – a possibility that may serve as an effective endorsement of the MSR and its supposed ‘benign’ motivations. Paradoxically, this may not assist in allaying any of India’s original concerns about a string of maritime outposts in the Indian Ocean- meant solely to safe-guard Chinese trade and resource interests and to attenuate Indian influence in the region.

    Posted on June 07, 2014