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The Game of Chess at the Indian Ocean

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10th-Mar-2017       
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K M Ishmam :
International politics is like a game of chess. The players here like in the game of chess try to out maneuver each other by playing out various moves that are sometimes quite obvious or sometimes a bit opaque. The oceans of the world have always been a major theatre of action in the realm of international politics. As we all know that the mastery of the oceans leads to global domination. Britain has showed this at time of their imperial zenith and now it is being displayed by the US. Almost everyone is quite familiar with the ambitions of China and other players in the South China Sea because of all the global media attention surrounding the region. But another theatre is slowly taking shape in the Indian Ocean. Though it has not caught the imagination of the media like South China Sea but is also very important as it involves the next two super powers of the world India and China.
The latest visit of the Chinese premiere to Bangladesh was observed with a lot of caution by the policy makers of India. The buying of submarines which were worth 203 million by Bangladesh from the Chinese had unnerved some of the defence analysts in India. They were perplexed about the need of these submarines by Bangladesh as it has already solved its maritime issues with Myanmar and India. The paranoia among the Indian policy makers is quite understandable because the Chinese influence in South-Asia has been steadily growing and it collides with the ambition of India in the region.
After the 1962 war the relationship between the two regional powers have always been covered by a cloud of mistrust. China backing Pakistan and India not acknowledging the claims of China about 'Tibet' make matters worse. China also doesn't recognize India's control over the 'Arunachal' province. The scenario becomes even more complex if we bring in the disputed territories of 'Kashmir' between India and Pakistan. Already having these complex land-boundary issues the competition among these two big nations for the control over the 'Indian Ocean' is a matter of concern for all the inhabitants of the region. The 'Indian Ocean' is important for China because it uses the ocean as a major route to carry fuel to mainland China. China has a massive demand for oil. It consumes 11 million barrels per day according to CNBC. So naturally China will be aggressive in asserting control over these routes. Then again the 12.4 trillion dollar (nominal) Chinese economy depends mainly on export and businesses with the outside world so the sea becomes absolutely vital for it. In order to increase its connectivity with the rest of Asia and some parts of Europe it has coined some connectivity models. These are commonly known as the 'One Belt One Road,' 'The New Silk Route Economic Belt' and 'Maritime Silk Route.' These are the ideas of the Chinese premiere Xi Jinping. The planned "Maritime Silk Route" plans to connect mainland China with the rest of South-East Asia. It is a historical route which was invented by Zheng He. He used to travel from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean to sell Chinese goods from 14051433. After his death the route slowly closed down. It is even mentioned that he had at some point came to 'Sonargaon' of Bangladesh. China is also considering reviving the 2000 years old silk route. They are terming it as the 'New Silk Route Economic Belt.' The 'One Belt One Road' connectivity plan reveals that it will connect China with Madrid via middle Asia. This is a massive plan that includes 60 countries. This two thrust approach by China is definitely aimed at global as well as regional supremacy.
India is wary of all these connectivity approaches of China. The 'CPEC' or 'China-Pakistan Economic Corridor' is a massive cause of concern for India as it passes along the Indian part of the Kashmir. 'CPEe' is a massive 54 billion dollar project which aims to connect the Xinjiang province of China to Gawadar port of Pakistan which is located at the Balochistan province. It is aimed to cut down the time required to carry oil from the gulf to China. India has claimed that all these connectivity approaches by China are just a camouflage of their military ambition known as the "String of Pearlsl/. This term was coined by a US analyst who claimed that China aims to build military bases in every important port in the Indian Ocean. India claims this is directly aimed to suppress India's economic and political influence in the region. The presence of a Chinese submarine in the Hambantota port of Sri Lanka which was consequently built by the Chinese made a lot of hue and cry in the Indian media. This is the reason why Indians show so much concern about our closeness to China. India has put forward the India Doctrine. It is an Indian version of the Monroe Doctrine. India states that it will not tolerate any foreign power in the Indian Ocean. In the Indian Rim Summit held at Bhuvenshwar in 2014, India had mentioned this pretty clearly.
The things have gotten more interesting as USA have gotten into the frame. Barack Obama's Pivot to Asia policy has made India and USA come closer. The LEMOA agreement signed on 29 August 2016 allows both the country to use naval, air and military bases of the countries to repair military equipments and maintain the lines of supply. Some analysts have pointed out that it is an agreement that is directly aimed to control the Chinese influence. Agreements like CISMOA, BECA etc are also in line. So a US-INDIA coalition is building in the region. India is also playing its share of mischief in the South China Sea. India -Vietnam military co-operations are gradually building up which is not at all liked by the Chinese.
India and China are currently the number 2 and number 5 economies of the world. They are also important members in organizations like BRICS, AIIB etc. So a peaceful relationship that revolves around trust and friendship is needed not only for regional prosperity but for global economic progress. For Bangladesh we have to stay out as much as we can from these sorts of tussles of the major powers.
We have to make them believe that we only care for our prosperity and regional peace. We don't want to get ourselves involved in the regional conflicts of the rising powers as from real life experience we know that what can happen to a small nation if they get too much involved in such conflicts. Bangladesh till now is doing a good job of not tilting too much towards any side .Our foreign office will have to make sure that we keep it that way to maintain our image as a friendly non-aligned nation of South-Asia. n
(K M lshmam is a student of Department of Soil, Water and Environment, University of Dhaka)

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