Policy Brief - July 2017

China, India and the Strategic Balance in the Indian Ocean: 
The Maritime Silk Road as a Double Edged Sword

China's ambitious drive to achieve 'global power' status pivots on the use of political and economic strengths for regional and trans-regional outreach. It has creatively used the maritime medium to promote its geopolitical, geo-economic and geostrategic interests through initiatives such as the 21st century Maritime Silk Road (MSR). The MSR passes through Southern Asia-Indian Ocean and China is using the associated maritime infrastructure as naval launch pads to disrupt the ability of potential hostile powers in the region to thwart its ambitions.  It would appear that China believes that the MSR is a double-edged sword (economic-commercial-connectivity and strategic-military-naval) which not only helps expand trade networks in the region, but also secures the sea lanes and legitimizes its naval presence in the region. Further, this is in line with the Chinese Defense White Paper 2015 which notes that the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLA Navy) will progressively shift its focus and combine both 'offshore waters defense' with 'open seas protection' wherein its task forces are to be deployed in the Arabian Sea-Indian Ocean. 

India is now responding by invoking a number of creative rejoinders including those which have so far remained diplomatic 'taboos' among the Indian foreign policy mandarins. These have peeved Beijing, which has advised caution to New Delhi as one of these involves its 'core interest.' 
In this Policy Brief, Dr. Vijay Sakhuja, Director of the National Maritime Foundation in New Delhi, examines the mounting tension between China and India over maritime issues in the Indian Ocean.
This Policy Brief is part of a series in a project at the Rising Powers Initiative exploring the linkages between energy security and maritime strategies in the Indo-Pacific that is supported by the MacArthur Foundation.
The Rising Powers Initiative examines how domestic political debates and identity issues affect international relations in Asia.
More information on the Rising Powers Initiative can be found at:
By Dr. Vijay Sakhuja is Director, National Maritime Foundation, New Delhi. A former Indian navy officer, Sakhuja is author of Asian Maritime Power in the 21st Century and co-author of Climate Change and the Bay of Bengal.

The views expressed in this Policy Brief are the author's own.

The Sigur Center for Asian Studies is an international research center of The Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. Its mission is to increase the quality and broaden the scope of scholarly research and publications on Asian affairs, promote U.S.-Asia scholarly interaction and 
serve as the nexus for educating a new generation of students, scholars, analysts, and policymakers.


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