In this post, I very briefly summarise the current flashpoints between India and China. I am also mentioning 10 points about the strategic interests of both countries in the Indian Ocean, as we tend to overlook that in most discussions on border disputes.
Jammu and Kashmir – Since India was invaded by China in 1962, The part known as Aksai Chin continues to be occupied by China. India claims the occupied territory to be an integral part of Jammu and Kashmir, whereas the Chinese do not show Aksai Chin as an Indian territory on their maps of the region.
Tibet – One of the original points of dispute between the two countries. India recognised Tibet as an independent country before China invaded the country, and then gave refuge to the Dalai Lama.
Arunachal and Sikkim – As one of my previous posts on China discussed, the Tibetans also considered parts of Arunachal to be their territory. After the Sino-Indian conflict, the dispute became a Sino-Indian one. Depending on varying media reports, the Chinese claim all of Arunachal (or one small part) and Sikkim is their territory.
Pakistan – India alleges that China proliferated nuclear weapons as well as other arms to Pakistan, and that it also provides substantial military aid to the Pakistani government.
River-Water disputes – From time to time, one hears reports of the Chinese planning to build large dams on rivers which originate in China or the Tibetan plateau and flow into India (and also into Pakistan). The major ones of these such as the Indus and the Brahmaputra support thousands of kilometres of local economies. Any news of dam building is therefore met with great consternation, though the Indian government downplays such reports.
The Indian Ocean: The Indian Ocean is bordered from side to side by almost all the major Islamic countries, it is also dominated by two immense bays – The Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal which border Pakistan and Myanmar respectively.
“In other words, more than just a geographic feature, the Indian Ocean is also an idea. It combines the centrality of Islam with global energy politics and the rise of India and China to reveal a multilayered, multipolar world.“
The article from which the lines above are quoted makes the following points (quoted):
1. India’s and China’s aspirations…have compelled the two countries “to redirect their gazes from land to the seas…”
2. 90 percent of global commerce and about 65 percent of all oil travel by sea. Globalization has been made possible by the cheap and easy shipping of containers on tankers, and the Indian Ocean accounts for fully half the world’s container traffic. Global energy needs are expected to rise by 45 percent between 2006 and 2030, and almost half of the growth in demand will come from India and China.
3. India is seeking to increase its influence from the Plateau of Iran to the Gulf of Thailand — an expansion west and east meant to span the zone of influence of the Raj’s viceroys. India’s trade with the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and Iran, with which India has long enjoyed close economic and cultural ties, is booming.
4. India has also been expanding its military and economic ties with Myanmar, to the east. Democratic India does not have the luxury of spurning Myanmar’s junta because Myanmar is rich in natural resources — oil, natural gas, coal, zinc, copper, uranium, timber, and hydropower — resources in which the Chinese are also heavily invested.
5. India is enlarging its navy in the same spirit. With its 155 warships, the Indian navy is already one of the world’s largest.
6. The Chinese government has already adopted a “string of pearls” strategy for the Indian Ocean, which consists of setting up a series of ports in friendly countries along the ocean’s northern seaboard.
7. Beijing operates surveillance facilities on islands deep in the Bay of Bengal. In Myanmar, whose junta gets billions of dollars in military assistance from Beijing, the Chinese are constructing (or upgrading) commercial and naval bases and building roads, waterways, and pipelines to link the Bay of Bengal to the southern Chinese province of Yunnan.
8. The Chinese government is also envisioning a canal across the Isthmus of Kra, in Thailand, to link the Indian Ocean to China’s Pacific coast — a project on the scale of the Panama Canal and one that could further tip Asia’s balance of power in China’s favor by giving China’s burgeoning navy and commercial maritime fleet easy access to a vast oceanic continuum stretching all the way from East Africa to Japan and the Korean Peninsula.
9. All of these activities are unnerving the Indian government. With China building deep-water ports to its west and east and a preponderance of Chinese arms sales going to Indian Ocean states, India fears being encircled by China unless it expands its own sphere of influence. The two countries’ overlapping commercial and political interests are fostering competition, and even more so in the naval realm than on land.
10. As the competition between India and China suggests, the Indian Ocean is where global struggles will play out in the twenty-first century. The US has already recognised this and has started making necessary shifts. The document Marine Corps Vision and Strategy 2025 also concluded that the Indian Ocean and its adjacent waters will be a central theater of global conflict and competition this century.