China’s String of Pearls: Notes for UPSC International Relations

The String of Pearls is a strategy deployed by China, by building a network of commercial and military bases and ports in many countries. This strategy has been deployed by China to protect its trade interests, as a major chunk of its trade passes through the Indian Ocean and various choke points like Strait of Hormuz, Strait of Malacca and Lombok Strait.

Theories like the String of Pearls affect the relation between China and India in such a way that its implications are a must-know for all candidates who are currently attempting the IAS Exam this year.

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What are the implications of the String of Pearl’s doctrine?

Defence analysts believe that this doctrine along with initiatives like the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor and other parts of China’s One Belt and One Road Initiative, is a threat to India’s national security. This as such a system would encircle India and threaten its power projection, trade, and potentially territorial integrity.

Read in detail about the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) on the linked page.

Impact of String of Pearls on India:

  1. It endangers Indian maritime security. China is developing more firepower with more submarines, destroyers, vessels, and ships. Their presence will pose a threat to India’s security through the water.
  2. Impact on the Indian economy – Indian resources will be diverted towards defense and security. Thus, the economy will not reach its potential hampering economic growth. This may further lead to instability in India and the whole east and southeast region.
  3. The strategic clout of India which it enjoys today in the Indian ocean will be reduced. China doesn’t have any openings in the Indian ocean, the Strings of pearls will lead to China surrounding India and it will be able to dominate it. Countries that today consider India as a partner in response to China may end up in the lap of China.

Furthermore, China’s support for India’s traditional enemy of Pakistan and the construction of its Gwadar Port is viewed as a threat, compounded by fears that China may develop an overseas naval military base in Gwadar, which could allow China to conduct expeditionary warfare in the Indian Ocean region.

From the east, the deep-water port of Kyaukpyu is also viewed with a similar concern. The first comprehensive academic analyses of Chinese plan and its security implications for New Delhi is known to be undertaken in February 2008 by an active-duty Indian naval officer.

Antedating China’s anti-piracy naval deployment in the Indian Ocean beginning in December 2008, and the ensuing acquisition of its first overseas military in Djibouti in August 2017, the analysis predicting China’s “permanent military presence” in the Indian Ocean is viewed by Indian policymakers as prescient. Accordingly, India has since been making moves of various types to counter the perceived threat.

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How has India Responded to the String of Pearl’s Doctrine so Far?

India is using a multi-pronged strategy to counter the Chinese String of Pearls Strategy. The strategy involves building ports, extensive Coastal Surveillance Radar (CSR) systems to track Chinese Warships and Submarines, importing state of the art surveillance planes which can track down Chinese submarines, operating Airport in the neighbouring country to keep a check on the Port built by China, deepening defence ties, expanding bilateral relations with South Asian countries, Island nations in Indian Ocean region, Southeast Asian Nations and carrying out regular military exercises with navies of USA, Japan, Australia.

Some of the important actions that are undertaken by India to counter the Chinese Navy and its influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region are listed below.

  • India’s Act East Policy, which was launched as an effort to integrate India’s economy with South-East Asian nations. It has been used to make important military and strategic agreements with Vietnam, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand helping India to counter China. Know more about India’s ACT East Policy in detail on the page link provided here.
  • Building & Accessing Ports
    • India is developing Chabahar port in Iran, opening a new land-sea route to Central Asian countries by-passing Pakistan. It is strategically located close to the Chinese Gwadar Port in Pakistan and is close to the Strait of Hormuz. Chhabahar gives India a strategic position since it overlooks the Gulf of Oman, a very strategic oil supply route.
    • Indonesia – India is building a deep-sea Port in Indonesia, a place named Sabang. It has strategic significance as it is close to the Strait of Malacca and India’s Andaman & Nicobar Islands. 
    • Myanmar – India built a deep water port in Sittwe in 2016. 
    • Bangladesh – India would help Bangladesh modernize Sea Port in Mongla. India can also use the Chittagong port in Bangladesh.
    • Oman – India has signed agreements to access strategically located Naval facilities of Oman. This facility is close to the Strait of Hormuz. More than 30% of oil exports pass through the Strait of Hormuz.
    • Singapore – India has signed an agreement to access Changi Naval Base of Singapore, which is strategically located close to the Strait of Malacca.
  • Military and Naval relationships: To upgrade and train its navy, India has developed a strategic naval relationship with Myanmar which gives India an increased footprint in the area. It has also made agreements for military cooperation in the region with Japan, Australia and the USA. The four countries carry out joint military exercises in the IOR region and are known as the ‘Quad’. Know in detail about the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) Group on the linked page.
  • Building Coastal Radar Networks
    • Bangladesh – India has recently signed an agreement with Bangladesh to install 20 Coastal Surveillance Radar Systems along the coastline of Bangladesh. This will help India to monitor Chinese Warships which have been frequently visiting the Bay of Bengal.
    • The Maldives – India will install 10 Coastal Radar Systems in the Maldives. These radars will relay live images, videos, location information of Ships moving in the Indian Ocean Region. The project is implemented by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). As of 2019, 7 are completed, there were small hiccups in the project due to the Government of Maldives. Once a Government that is favourable to India came to power, the project is moving with full speed.
    • Sri Lanka – 6 Coastal Surveillance Radars (CSR) have been installed in Sri Lanka. As per some reports, India is planning to set up at least 10 more CSR in Sri Lanka. There are constant ongoing efforts by the Governments of India and Sri Lanka to solidify  India- Sri Lanka ties.
    • Mauritius – 8 Coastal Surveillance Radars have been installed in Mauritius.
    • Seychelles – 1 Coastal Surveillance Radar (CSR) have been Installed in Seychelles. The 1st Coastal Surveillance Radar in Seychelles became operational in 2015. It was commissioned on the main island of Mahe. More Coastal Surveillance Radar will be installed in the small islands of Astove, Assumption and Farquhar. There are plans for 32 more Coastal Surveillance Radar Systems in Seychelles.
    • India – BEL had set up 46 Coastal Radar stations and 16 command and control systems in 2015 in India. In the next phase, 38 more Coastal Radar stations and 5 command and control systems will be set up.

Building ports in collaboration and signing bilateral agreements with countries is usually to improve trade ties with the respective countries and open different trade routes for India. It helps India to counter the Chinese influence in these countries.

  • Furthermore, India has invested a lot diplomatically in countries like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. All these countries surround China in the North.
  • Signing pact with France: India and France recently signed a strategic pact opening up their naval bases to each other’s warships across the Indian Ocean. It grants the Indian navy access to important French ports including one in Djibouti, home to China’s single overseas military base. Read in detail about India – France Relations on the linked page.
  • Setting up the Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) that will share real-time maritime information with friendly nations, which will be based out of Gurgaon. All the Coastal Surveillance Radar Systems are connected to provide a comprehensive real-time picture to Indian Defence Establishment regarding Chinese presence in the region.
  • Naval bases and airfields: India finalised an agreement for a new base in the Seychelles and negotiated military access to naval facilities at Oman’s port and airfields. A pact allowing deployments from each other’s naval facilities was signed with Singapore in 2017. With expanded bases on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands at the end of the Malacca Strait, India is raising the stakes in the fight over the waters of Southeast Asia.

A number of these counter-terrorism and anti-piracy efforts have been conducted in coordination with American forces, though Indian officials have traditionally restricted joint military exercises to common interest initiatives, often those under United Nations sanctions.

To know more in detail about the other countermeasures India has adopted against the String of Pearls, visit the linked article.

Frequently Asked Questions on String of Pearls

Q 1. What is string of pearls policy of China?

Ans. The String of Pearls refers to the Chinese network of military and commercial facilities and relationships along its sea lines. This strategy has been deployed by China to protect its trade interests.

Q 2. How will the String of Pearls affect India?

Ans. The String of Pearls shall affect India’s maritime security. It will also effect the country economically as more resources will have to be allotted for the development of the defence sector.

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