Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in Bangladesh this weekend. Modi and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina signed 20 agreements and memorandums of understanding on issues as diverse as infrastructure, energy, health, and education. On the security front, one of the more interesting agreements to emerge from Modi’s trip so far has been a bilateral agreement that will grant Indian cargo vessels use of the China-backed Chittagong port and Mongla port in Bangladesh.
There is a popular perception in India of maritime strategic encirclement by China in the Indian Ocean.In India’s perception, China is establishing a network of civilian port facilities and underwriting Indian Ocean littoral infrastructure projects to boost the ability of its vessels to operate in and around waters that should rightly be under New Delhi’s domination. A decade ago, a Booz Allen Hamilton report used the metaphor of a “string of pearls” to describe this phenomenon and the term stuck, for better or worse. Since then, it’s become somewhat of an analytical trope for analysts studying maritime security in the context of India-China competition.
The port facility at Chittagong in Bangladesh has long been included on the list of China-backed ports in Beijing’s “string of pearls.”For Indian civilian vessels to have access to these ports is an important development, not least because it showcases growing trust between India and Bangladesh, but also because it may assuage Indian fears about the depth of China’s influence in Dhaka.
I’m not quite sure this agreement has precisely the “huge strategic implications” the Times of India notes, but it serves as a reminder of the extent to which Indian perceptions of a Chinese “string of pearls” are often overstated. The strategic implications would indeed be more severe if the present agreement had the effect of offending Beijing or distancing Bangladesh and China, but none of that seems to be true for the moment. For New Delhi, the concern seems to be shifting from port facilities underwritten by China to the People Liberation Army-Navy’s (PLAN) broader operations in the area. As China acknowledges by its own admission per its 2015 white paper, it is seeking a more global role for the PLAN. If anything, China’s base in Djibouti might be the closest thing to what Indian strategic thinkers envision when they hear about a “string of pearls.”
(Japanese The Diplomat website on June 7 ”India Plucks a Pearl from China’s‘String’ in Bangladesh?” by Ankit Panda)
印度摘掉“珍珠链”上的一颗珍珠？India Plucks a Pearl from the “String”?