Maritime Security

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  • From Protection of Shipping to Protection of Citizens and National Economies: Current Changes in Maritime Security

    This article analyses the alteration of the referent object for maritime security from protection of shipping and port facilities to protection of citizens and national economies. It presents a tentative answer on the extent and consequences of this alteration applied by states in a global perspective, and focuses on validating four explanatory factors on why the alteration has occurred. The time period of study is between 1991 and 2013.

    July 2013

    Vipin asked: What could be the implications of Gwadar Port being handed over to a Chinese company?

    Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: China is seeking to enhance its maritime presence in the Indian Ocean with the ostensible aim of securing the transportation of energy resources from the Gulf region. Its interest in ports in the South Asian region - Sri Lanka, Maldives and Pakistan - is part of this strategy. However, analysts the world over argue that its strategic interests go beyond this. Its strategic nexus with Pakistan over the last more than five decades gives a special connotation to its interests in Gwadar. China is aiming at connecting Gwadar with its restive province of Xinjiang through the Karakoram Highway. It intends to convert the highway into a strategic corridor (with railway lines and oil and gas pipelines) and use it for transporting energy from the Gulf region as well as resources from Pakistan.

    However, the Sino-Pak plan to use Gwadar for strategic purposes has not taken off primarily because of the prevailing instability and uncertainty in Balochistan. Therefore, as long as Pakistan does not address the concerns of the Baloch people, it is highly unlikely that Gawadar can ever realise its full potential. Due to this reason, the Singaporean company which had won the tender to manage the Gwadar Port decided to leave, forcing Pakistan to invite China to manage it. Because of its strategic interests alone— since it does not make business sense at all at the moment— China decided to accept the offer. Chinese behaviour, thus, needs to be monitored closely to understand its intentions in the coming days.

    China’s ‘String of pearls’ in Space

    A ‘pearl’ could be viewed as a sphere of influence seeded, secured and maintained through the use of economic, geopolitical, diplomatic or military means. The ‘string of pearls’ is about China’s unambiguous maritime strategy that investments in increasing its sea power. This is essentially a multi-pronged strategy that challenges dominant US interests in the Indian Ocean and sends a clear message to India that the Indian Ocean is not India’s ocean by increasing the dependence of the littoral states in the region on China.

    March 21, 2013

    Naval Operations Analysis in the Indian Ocean Region A Review

    The end of the Cold War resulted in a fundamental swing from a navy designed to engage a blue water battle fleet to one focused on forward operations in littoral waters. The Cold War era had fuelled massive research and development (R&D) in design of sonars that was able to substantially minimize the uncertainties of the underwater environment. The shift of the naval theatre to the littoral waters led to a paradigm change in terms of technology requirements to retain the effectiveness of these sonars.

    January 2013

    Kumar Saurav asked: To counter the ‘string of pearls’, what is the position of India on the Vietnamese offer of a naval base?

    Sarabjeet Singh Parmar replies: The usage of a facility by a foreign military is often misconstrued as an offer for a military base. Therefore, in the first instance, the difference between having a base and availing of facilities must be clearly understood. In the traditional sense, a base would imply that the host nation has offered land with or without infrastructure to another nation to use as a base. The modalities of usage depend on the understanding or agreement signed by the two nations as is the case with the US and the nations where it has bases. That base could then be viewed as belonging to the invitee nation.

    In the existing world order, the pressures that a nation would have to face for inviting a foreign military presence would be tremendous. Therefore, the setting up of military bases in another nation, in the traditional sense, could be viewed as difficult if not improbable. Nautically speaking, availing of port facilities means that ships of any nation are welcome to dock at the port for refuelling and taking on supplies. Such a visit would be at the discretion of the host nation and would depend on the relations the host nation has with the visiting nation.

    As per reports, the Vietnamese had planned to develop the facilities, including repair, at Camh Ran Bay for use by foreign ships, but no offer has been made by Vietnam to any nation to develop it as a naval base in the traditional sense of the term. Ships of the Indian Navy have visited ports of Vietnam earlier, and it was also the first navy whose ship, INS Airavat, was permitted to enter the port of Nha Trang. Both Camh Ran Bay and Nha Trang are strategically located near key shipping routes in the South China Sea and are close to the potentially oil-rich Spratlys and Paracel Islands. The oil fields in which ONGC has invested in collaboration with Vietnam are also in close proximity.

    India has time and again reiterated its stand on its presence in the South China Sea, delving on the aspects of freedom of navigation, diplomatic and commercial interests. For more on India’s position, refer to an earlier response to a query on the issue, available at

    Therefore, even if India offers assistance or is requested to assist in the development of Camh Ran Bay, or any other port, it could be viewed as a purely commercial and diplomatic (including military diplomacy) endeavour and not as a counter to the “string of pearls”.

    Praveen CV asked: How Sri Lanka’s denial of Chinese ‘string of pearls’ policy and its claim that Chinese presence in Hambantota harbour is for economic or developmental purpose is to be viewed?

    Sarabjeet Singh Parmar replies: The Chinese engagement, presently, is based mainly on infrastructure development and improvement of diplomatic ties, thereby availing of the facilities available for extending what could be called its “Look West Policy”. As far as Hambantota being part of the string of pearls is concerned, it would depend on how the Chinese use it and to what extent Sri Lanka would permit it to be used. In this regard, the establishment of a Chinese military base in the port of Hambantota is far fetched and in today’s scenario extra-regional presence and economic strangleholds does not seem realistic. The pressures that a nation would have to face after inviting a foreign military presence would be tremendous. The establishment of a Chinese military base would imply a form of alliance that most nations, especially small island nations like Sri Lanka, would like to avoid. There are several economic and security implications involved both at the regional and wider international level.

    However, the port of Hambantota would be an asset for the Chinese as it would be a major facility for refuelling and resupply of Chinese vessels half way along the SLOCs en route from the Malacca Straits to the choke points in northwest Indian Ocean Region (IOR), namely the Gulf of Aden, Bab-el-Mandeb, the Suez Canal and the Straits of Hormuz. Hambantota would also grant the Chinese the ability to turn south and enter the Indian Ocean.

    Therefore, Hambantota, as of now, could be viewed as a stepping stone for the Chinese to increase their presence in the IOR. A lot would depend on how the relations between Sri Lanka and India either grow or diminish in view of increased Chinese economic engagements in the region.

    China to Survey Disputed Marine Territories for Natural Resources

    China seems to have made this move to strengthen its claim to disputed marine territories by conducting “surveys” which a country normally does in its own territory.

    January 11, 2013

    Trespassers will be Prosecuted: China’s latest Billboard in the South China Sea

    The issuance of these ordinances will not only add to the growing tensions in the disputed areas, specifically the South China Sea, but also add to the growing suspicions about Chinese intent.

    December 08, 2012

    Towards an Asia-Pacific Alliance

    Coincidentally or not, China’s maritime disputes with its neighbours in the littoral have been gaining global attention ever since Obama’s announcement in January 2012 of his country’s “pivot” strategy in the Asia-Pacific.

    November 26, 2012