Ring of dragon fire: Pakistan’s transfer of Gwadar port to China is a significant addition to the latter’s ‘string of pearls’ created to contain India
On Thursday, Pakistan’s Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira announced that control of the port at Gwadar, near the Pakistan-Iran border would pass from the Port of Singapore Authority to the China Overseas Port Holdings.
Islamabad has been seeking a Chinese takeover of Gwadar for some time for two reasons. First, the port is failing to deliver the economic payoff that was expected. Second, it wants to get Beijing to commit itself deeper in the security of Pakistan.
For the Chinese, Gwadar has the attraction of being close to the Strait of Hormuz, an important oil-shipping lane. Pakistan neglected the transportation infrastructure required to develop the port and so it has been underused.
According to The New York Times, the last ship docked in November. Former director of the National Maritime Foundation Commodore (Retd.) Uday Bhaskar said through this farsighted political move “China is able to alter its geography”.
He said China had successfully “leveraged its political relationship with Pakistan” and that this had significant implications for the region.
Gwadar is the most lustrous of the “string of pearls” that China has created to contain India. This idea was first mooted by a US defence consultancy firm Booze-Allen Hamilton in 2003.
In essence it suggested that Chinese interest in funding, constructing or modernising ports in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Seychelles and Pakistan was aimed at obtaining basing rights which would be used to contain India and project the power of the Chinese Navy in the Indian Ocean. But it also reflects a Chinese sense of vulnerability. In the coming years, Chinese dependence on oil from the Persian Gulf area is set to increase and could reach 70 per cent by 2015.
This oil must travel past the Straits of Hormuz and then go along the Indian peninsula between the Maldives and Sri Lanka, up again the Bay of Bengal, through the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and then go southwards through the Straits of Malacca. Another route it could take is through the Sunda Straits between Sumatra and Java, or further east through the Lombok Straits.
At present, the bulk of the shipping goes through the Straits of Malacca which is dominated in the north by the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
One fanciful interpretation is that China seeks access to places like Gwadar and Sittwe because it can build oil pipelines to its mainland and bypass the Malacca dilemma.
The development of such facilities is not an immediate threat to India because our geography, as well as the strength of the Indian Navy and Indian Air Force, is sufficient to counter anything the Chinese Navy can put up.
But this is just the beginning. The Chinese economy and military acquisitions are outpacing India greatly and in another 15 or 20 years the situation could be different.
Then, these developments must be seen in conjunction with Beijing’s diplomacy, which is directed towards offsetting Indian influence among its neighbours through high-profile economic assistance and infrastructure projects.
We have already seen how this works in Sri Lanka where the government of Mahinda Rajpaksa has become increasingly intolerant to dissent because it is confident of Chinese economic and diplomatic backing.
The manner in which Pakistan has used its “all-weather” friendship with China is well known. With China taking Islamabad’s bait on Gwadar, we can only expect more of the same.– With Gautam Datt
Courtesy– India Today