When China took over the management of the Gwadar port in Pakistan, it was seen as a matter of concern by India. Beijing too saw it as a means to bypass the Indian Ocean and set up a strategic asset en route to the Strait of Hormuz, furthering its trade interests. It was also seen as a boost to China’s ‘String of Pearls’ theory, whereby China wants to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean Region by raising military or commercial points at strategically located islands in order to encircle India and contain Indian influence in the region. What further came as a boost to China’s naval strategy of ring-fencing India was the setting up of Chinese People’s Liberation Army Support Base in Djibouti.
However, China’s attempts to checkmate India in its own vicinity have been thwarted by India in the recent past. Only in the last five to six years of the ‘base race’, India has been able to counter the much-feared Chinese presence in the Arabian Sea region. Through several strategically located ports, India has been able to tackle the Chinese strategy of jeopardising India’s standing in her own vicinity by building naval bases in the strategically located points of the Region.
As far as the Strait of Hormuz is concerned, India already enjoys a strategic advantage with access to the port of Duqm in Oman that can be used for military purposes and logistical support. An even bigger advantage for India came in the form of Chahabar port, yet another strategic point located on the Southeastern coast of the energy-rich Iran that got operational before the Gwadar port. With China taking over the Gwadar Port it was considered crucial for our country to have a counter presence in the region which the Chahabar Port offers. The two ports are less than 100 kilometres apart and open into the Arabian Sea and that is why the Chahabar port getting operational before the Gwadar port came as a huge achievement. Therefore, PM Modi and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s interaction and efforts have resulted in India gaining a major strategic advantage over the Dragon in the Region. Gwadar Port has failed disastrously due to insufficient cargo handled at the port. China’s COSCO Shipping Lines recently terminated its container liner services between Karachi and Gwadar, alleging that Pakistan’s inadequate policies and measures have impacted market development.
Another strategic development that has helped India counter the China’s expansionist ambitions is India’s access to the French base in Djibouti which sits at the Horn of Africa, yet another strategic vantage point for India, helping it counter the presence of the Chinese naval base there. India is also building a naval base at Seychelles. This strategic advantage in the Indian Ocean is further boosted by access to the US base, Diego Gracia in the Chagos Islands of Mauritius. Such an extensive presence has largely cancelled out the threat of China’s presence in Gwadar and Djibouti.
Apart from gaining access to strategically located ports, India has also managed to counter Beijing through its strategic partnerships with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Through such partnerships, India gains the opportunity to counter-balance China’s economic and commercial penetration in the Gulf.