January 22, 2008
22 Jan 2008, 1425 hrs IST,PTI
CHENNAI: The Gwadar port being built by Pakistan with Chinese assistance in its Baluchistan coast has "serious strategic implications for India", Naval Chief, Admiral Sureesh Mehta has said.
"Being only 180 nautical miles from the exit of the Straits of Hormuz, Gwadar, being bulit in Baluchistan coast, would enable Pakistan take control over the world energy jugular and interdiction of Indian tankers," he said delivering T S Narayanaswamy Memorial lecture in Chennai on Monday night.
The challenge for India was to balance relations with China in such a manner that competition for strategic significance of space in the Indian Ocean leads to cooperation rather than conflict, he said
"The pressure for countries to cooperate in the maritime military domain to ensure smooth flow of energy and commerce on the high seas will grow even further," he said speaking on "Oceanic Influence on India's Development in the next Decade."
Talking about "Chinese designs on the Indian Ocean," Mehta said China had a strategy called `String of Pearls,' click as per which it seeks to set up bases and outposts across the globe, strategically located along its energy lines, to monitor and safeguard energy flows. "Each pearl in the string is a link in a chain of the Chinese maritime presence," he said.
"Among other locations, the string moves Northwards up to Gwadar deep sea port on Pakistan's Makran coast. A highway is under construction joining Gwadar with Karachi and there are plans to connect the port with the Karakoram Highway, thus providing China a gateway to Arabian Sea," he said adding that this could pose a problem for India.
What is “String of Pearls”?
Finally Indian Navy chief expressed concerns about growing presence of Chinese Navy in Indian Ocean , particularly the “String of Pearls” a label used by US to describe Chinese influence from the South China Sea through the Indian Ocean and on to the Arabian Gulf . Each “pearl” in the “String of Pearls” is a nexus of Chinese geopolitical influence or military presence. China’s development of these strategic geopolitical “pearls” has been non-confrontational, with no evidence of imperial or neocolonial ambition. Washington’s perception of China’s de facto strategy may not be a view shared in Beijing, but the fact remains that economic benefits and diplomatic rhetoric have been an enticement for countries to facilitate China’s strategic ambitions in the region.
Win Win Prospects :The port facility at Gwadar, for example, is a win-win prospect for both China and Pakistan. The port at Karachi currently handles 90 percent of Pakistan’s sea-borne trade, but because of its proximity to India, it is extremely vulnerable to blockade. This happened during the India-Pakistan War of 1971 and was threatened again during the Kargil conflict of 1999. Gwadar, a small fishing village which Pakistan identified as a potential port location in 1964 but lacked the means to develop, is 450 miles west of Karachi. A modern port at Gwadar would enhance Pakistan’s strategic depth along its coastline with respect to India.
Benefits for China : For China, the strategic value of Gwadar is its 240-mile distance from the Strait of Hormuz. China is facilitating development of Gwadar and paving the way for future access by funding a majority of the $1.2 billion project and providing the technical expertise of hundreds of engineers. Since construction began in 2002, China has invested four times more than Pakistan and contributed an additional $200 million towards the building of a highway to connect Gwadar with Karachi. In August 2005, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Pakistan to commemorate completion of the first phase of the Gwadar project and the opening of the first 3 of 12 multi-ship berths.
The Gwadar project has enhanced the strategic, diplomatic, and economic ties between Pakistan and China.
Other countries are benefiting from China’s new strategy, as well. In November 2003, China signed an agreement with Cambodia to provide military equipment and training in exchange for the right of way to build a rail line from southern China to the Gulf of Thailand.10 China also has an ambitious $20 billion proposal to build a canal across Thailand’s Kra Isthmus which would enable ships to bypass the chokepoint at the Strait of Malacca. Although this plan is stalled due to Thailand’s noncommittal position and political opposition in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, it reveals the scope and scale of Chinese ambition for the “String of Pearls.”
Navy favours a Maritime Security Advisor
WARM RECEPTION: N. Ramachandran, vice-president, ICES (second from left), welcoming Admiral Sureesh Mehta, Chief of Naval Staff, at the T.S. Narayanaswami Memorial Lecture in Chennai on Monday.
CHENNAI: The Naval headquarters feels the need for appointing a Maritime Security Advisor and a Maritime Security Advisory Board, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Suresh Mehta said on Monday.
Pointing out that the oceanic influence on India’s foreign policy would grow in the next decade, he said that to meet the future challenges, the functioning of all maritime organs had to be coordinated by a single policy-making apex body. The board would synergise the functioning of more than 14 government departments and agencies responsible for various elements of maritime affairs, besides several security agencies with jurisdictions along the coast.
Delivering the fifth T.S. Narayanaswami Memorial Lecture on “Oceanic influence on India’s development in the next decade,” jointly organised by the India Cements Educational Society and the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, University of Madras, he said planning strategies, human resource development and technologies should focus on leveraging the maximum advantage from the oceans. In the next decade, oceanic influence would significantly shape the country’s strategic development as a great power. “The challenges that the oceans bring forth and opportunities they offer can be ignored only to our national detriment.”
Energy security and security of energy were interlinked and, to a large extent, depended on the oceans. To protect and secure the widely dispersed interests across the globe, the maritime forces should have extended reach and staying power.
Admiral Mehta said the state of the country’s shipping and shipbuilding was worrisome. Quoting statistics, he said the country did not have enough Indian-owned ships to transport its energy requirements. Efforts should be made to enable shipyards to increase capacity and enhance competitiveness. Productivity would have to increase and production costs should be cut through a combination of improvements to infrastructure, technology and practices. On warship building, he said the defence shipyards’ capacity and capability were not enough to meet the navy’s accretion plans.
Painting a wide canvas of aspects relating to maritime security, he said that with regard to China, the challenge for India was to balance its relations in such a manner that competition for strategic space in the Indian Ocean led to cooperation rather than conflict.
Admiral Mehta described the environment in the country’s immediate neighbourhood as “fragile.” The volatile situation in West Asia and Afghanistan, the ongoing war on terror, the energy interest of major powers and fears of disruption of their energy supplies in times of crises would ensure a permanent presence of multinational forces in the Indian Ocean region. This had the potential for cooperation and conflict. “While our responses must be measured so that competition for resources resulted in cooperation rather than conflict, we must retain a military capability that will make the cost of extra-regional intervention on our sovereign interests unbearably high for any outsider.”
M. Jitendran, Chairman and Managing Director of Cochin Shipyard Limited, Inspector-General Rajendra Singh, Commander, Coast Guard Region (East), and M. Ravindran, former Director of the National Institute of Ocean Technology, stressed the need for considering shipbuilding part of the nation-building activity, developing human resources to meet the increasing challenges of maritime security, integration of several aspects of ocean management for the nation’s progress and necessary technology for exploring and harvesting of the ocean resources.
N. Ramachandran, vice-president, India Cements Educational Society, said the lectures were being organised to create awareness among the intelligentsia of matters of strategic importance.
Gopalji Malviya, Head, Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, spoke.