Security Implications of China’s Military Presence in the Indian Ocean

Author
Zack Cooper
Content Type
Working Paper
Institution
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Abstract
The issue: China’s increased military presence in the Indian Ocean should not come as a surprise. China is following in the traditional path of other rising powers; it is expanding its military operations to match its interests abroad. The security implications of China’s push into the Indian Ocean region are mixed. In peacetime, these efforts will certainly expand Chinese regional influence. In wartime, however, China’s Indian Ocean presence will likely create more vulnerabilities than opportunities. China’s military forays into the Indian Ocean have triggered a series of warnings. The term “string of pearls” was first used to refer to Chinese basing access in the Indian Ocean by a 2004 report for the U.S. Department of Defense. That report suggested China’s growing regional presence could “deter the potential disruption of its energy supplies from potential threats, including the U.S. Navy, especially in the case of a conflict with Taiwan.” Other scholars have warned that Beijing seeks to “dominate” the Indian Ocean region. Others suggest that the Chinese government is simply following its expanding trading interests and seeking to secure its supply lines against disruption. Although China’s presence in the Indian Ocean may permit it to increase its regional influence, Chinese facilities and forces would be highly vulnerable in a major conflict. Thus, the security implications of China’s push into the Indian Ocean region are mixed. In peacetime, these efforts will certainly expand Chinese regional influence. In wartime, however, China’s Indian Ocean presence will likely create more vulnerabilities than opportunities.
Topic
Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Imperialism, Military Strategy, Maritime
Political Geography
United States, China, India, Taiwan, Asia, Indian Ocean