China’s moves in the Indian Ocean

Published on - December 05, 2022

Source: The Hindu

Context:

China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) convened the first, “China-Indian Ocean Region Forum”. It can be seen as the latest Chinese initiative focusing on the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Key Highlights of the Forum:

Theme: ‘Shared Development: Theory and Practice from the Perspective of the Blue Economy’.

Marine Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Cooperation Mechanism:

China proposed to establish a marine disaster prevention and mitigation cooperation mechanism between China and countries in the Indian Ocean region.

China expressed its willingness to provide necessary financial, material, and technical support to countries in need.

What is the China-Indian Ocean Region forum about?

It is “the first high-level official development cooperation forum jointly held by China and countries in the Indian Ocean Region” and has “over 100 participants.

The forum issued a “Joint Press Statement” that noted:

China “proposed to establish a marine disaster prevention and mitigation cooperation mechanism between China and countries in the Indian Ocean region”.

Which countries have backed the forum?

The forum was said to be attended by “high-level representatives” from 19 countries, including, Indonesia, Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran, Oman, South Africa, and Australia.

But at least two of those countries, Australia and Maldives have emphasized that they did not participate officially.

Where does India stand?

  1. According to CIDCA, India was invited to this forum and added that China “looks forward to meeting India at the next forum”. That prospect appears unlikely.
  2. New Delhi has viewed China’s recent moves in the region warily.
  3. India sees the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) as an already established platform for the region.

Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA):

  • It was established in 1997 and is a regional forum that seeks to build and expand understanding and mutually beneficial cooperation through a consensus-based, evolutionary and non-intrusive approach.
  • IORA has 23 member states and 9 Dialogue Partners.
  • Members: Australia, Bangladesh, Comoros, France, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Oman, Seychelles, Singapore, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
  • China is a dialogue partner in the IORA.
  • The IORA Secretariat is based in Mauritius.
  • The association gains importance from the fact that the Indian Ocean carries half of the world’s container ships, one-third of the world’s bulk cargo traffic, and two-thirds of the world’s oil shipments.
  • It is a lifeline of international trade and transport and the Indian Ocean region is woven together by trade routes and commands control of major sea lanes.

What are China’s plans for the IOR?

The CIDCA forum is the latest initiative to reflect Beijing’s view that:

  1. It has a clear stake in the region.
  2. China has also proposed creating a forum “on the development of Indian Ocean Island countries”.
  3. China is establishing a more frequent military presence in the waters of the IOR.
  4. Beijing’s first-ever overseas military facility was set up in Djibouti near the Horn of Africa.

Concerns:

China has often been accused of engaging in “debt diplomacy” in these countries under its Belt and Road Initiative allegedly in the name of infrastructure development.

Since 2008, China has regularly deployed a contingent of naval warships in the Gulf of Aden and established its first foreign military base in Djibouti in 2017.

At the same time, India's absence is seen as an attempt to challenge India’s traditional presence in the region amid apprehensions of politicization of the Indian Ocean region.