Archive for the ‘Indian Ocean’ Category

India, China jostle for influence in Indian Ocean

March 8, 2009

This battered harbor town on Sri Lanka’s southern tip, with its scrawny men selling even scrawnier fish, seems an unlikely focus for an emerging international competition over energy supply routes that fuel much of the global economy.

An impoverished place still recovering from the devastation of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Hambantota has a desolate air, a sense of nowhereness, punctuated by the realization that looking south over the expanse of ocean, the next landfall is Antarctica.

But just over the horizon runs one of the world’s great trade arteries, the shipping lanes where thousands of vessels carry oil from the Middle East and raw materials to Asia, returning with television sets, toys and sneakers for European consumers.

By Gavin Rabinowitz
Associated Press
June 2008

These tankers provide 80 percent of China’s oil and 65 percent of India’s — fuel desperately needed for the two countries’ rapidly growing economies. Japan, too, is almost totally dependent on energy supplies shipped through the Indian Ocean.

Any disruption — from terrorism, piracy, natural disaster or war — could have devastating effects on these countries and, in an increasingly interdependent world, send ripples across the globe. When an unidentified ship attacked a Japanese oil tanker traveling through the Indian Ocean from South Korea to Saudi Arabia in April, the news sent oil prices to record highs.

Emerging giants
For decades the world relied on the powerful U.S. Navy to protect this vital sea lane. But as India and China gain economic heft, they are moving to expand their control of the waterway, sparking a new — and potentially dangerous — rivalry between Asia’s emerging giants.

China has given massive aid to Indian Ocean nations, signing friendship pacts, building ports in Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as Sri Lanka, and reportedly setting up a listening post on one of Myanmar’s islands near the strategic Strait of Malacca.

Now, India is trying to parry China’s moves. It beat out China for a port project in Myanmar. And, flush with cash from its expanding economy, India is beefing up its military, with the expansion seemingly aimed at China. Washington and, to a lesser extent, Tokyo are encouraging India’s role as a counterweight to growing Chinese power.

Map locates the major Indian Ocean oil trade routes and newly developed ports built by China.

Among China’s latest moves is the billion dollar port its engineers are building in Sri Lanka, an island country just off India’s southern coast.

The Chinese insist the Hambantota port is a purely commercial move, and by all appearances, it is. But some in India see ominous designs behind the project, while others in countries surrounding India like the idea. A 2004 Pentagon report called Beijing’s effort to expand its presence in the region China’s “string of pearls.”

No one wants war, and relations between the two nations are now at their closest since a brief 1962 border war in which China quickly routed Indian forces. Last year, trade between India and China grew to $37 billion and their two armies conducted their first-ever joint military exercise.

Still, the Indians worry about China’s growing influence.

“Each pearl in the string is a link in a chain of the Chinese maritime presence,” India’s navy chief, Adm. Sureesh Mehta, said in a speech in January, expressing concern that naval forces operating out of ports established by the Chinese could “take control over the world energy jugular.”

“It is a pincer movement,” said Rahul Bedi, a South Asia analyst with London-based Jane’s Defense Weekly. “That, together with the slap India got in 1962, keeps them awake at night.”

B. Raman, a hawkish, retired Indian intelligence official, expressed the fears of some Indians over the Chinese-built ports, saying he believes they’ll be used as naval bases to control the area.

“We cannot take them at face value. We cannot assume their intentions are benign,” said Raman.

But Zhao Gancheng, a South Asia expert at the Chinese government-backed Shanghai Institute for International Studies, says ports like Hambantota are strictly commercial ventures. And Sri Lanka says the new port will be a windfall for its impoverished southern region.
With Sri Lanka’s proximity to the shipping lane already making it a hub for transshipping containers between Europe and Asia, the new port will boost the country’s annual cargo handling capacity from 6 million containers to some 23 million, said Priyath Wickrama, deputy director of the Sri Lankan Ports Authority.

Wickrama said a new facility was needed since the main port in the capital Colombo has no room to expand and Trincomalee port in the Northeast is caught in the middle of Sri Lanka’s civil war. Hambantota also will have factories onsite producing cement and fertilizer for export, he said.

Gearing military expansion towards ChinaMeanwhile, India is clearly gearing its military expansion toward China rather than its longtime foe, and India has set up listening stations in Mozambique and Madagascar, in part to monitor Chinese movements, Bedi noted. It also has an air base in Kazakhstan and a space monitoring post in Mongolia — both China’s neighbors.


India has announced plans to have a fleet of aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines at sea in the next decade and recently tested nuclear-capable missiles that put China’s major cities well in range. It is also reopening air force bases near the Chinese border.

Encouraging India’s role as a counter to China, the U.S. has stepped up exercises with the Indian navy and last year sold it an American warship for the first time, the 17,000-ton amphibious transport dock USS Trenton. American defense contractors — shut out from the lucrative Indian market during the long Cold War — have been offering India’s military everything from advanced fighter jets to anti-ship missiles.

“It is in our interest to develop this relationship,” U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a visit to New Delhi in February. “Just as it is in the Indians’ interest.”

Officially, China says it’s not worried about India’s military buildup or its closer ties with the U.S. However, foreign analysts believe China is deeply concerned by the possibility of a U.S.-Indian military alliance.

Ian Storey of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore said China sent strong diplomatic messages expressing opposition to a massive naval exercise India held last year with the U.S., Japan, Singapore and Australia. And Bedi, the Jane’s analyst, added “those exercises rattled the Chinese.”

Growing military budgetsIndia’s 2007 defense budget was about $21.7 billion, up 7.8 percent from 2006. China said its 2008 military budget would jump 17.6 percent to some $59 billion, following a similar increase last year. The U.S. estimates China’s actual defense spending may be much higher.


Like India, China is focusing heavily on its navy, building an increasingly sophisticated submarine fleet that could eventually be one of the world’s largest.

While analysts believe China’s military buildup is mostly focused on preventing U.S. intervention in any conflict with Taiwan, India is still likely to persist in efforts to catch up as China expands its influence in what is essentially India’s backyard. Meanwhile, Sri Lankans — who have looked warily for centuries at vast India to the north — welcome the Chinese investment in their country.

“Our lives are going to change,” said 62-year-old Jayasena Senanayake, who has seen business grow at his roadside food stall since construction began on the nearby port. “What China is doing for us is very good.”

China’s Anti-Pirate Naval Force Near Singapore

December 29, 2008

The Chinese naval fleet sailed into the Strait of Malacca on Monday after its departure from China’s southernmost island province of Hainan on an escort mission against piracy off Somalia Friday afternoon.

The fleet sailed into Singapore Strait Monday morning after over 20 hours’ voyage from the South China Sea and arrived at the Strait of Malacca. It is expected to reach the Indian Ocean Tuesday.


The convoy, which includes two of China’s most sophisticated naval destroyers, DDG-169 Wuhan and DDG-171 Haikou, and a supply ship Weishanhu, is heading for the Gulf of Aden to join a multinational patrol in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes where surging piracy endangers international shipping.

Above: Missile Destroyer Haikou 171 of the PLA Navy’s South China Sea Fleet. 
She is heasded for the Gulf of Aden with two other Chinese ships to deter
Somali pirates.

The fleet carries about 800 crew members, including 70 soldiers from the Navy’s special force, and is equipped with missiles, cannons and light weapons.

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China Takes First Step as Naval Power

December 28, 2008

On Friday, two destroyers and a supply vessel departed on China’s first long-range naval expedition since 1433. The decision to join the global armada in the pirate-plagued waters off Somalia is a momentous step in China’s rise as a world power.

It is also a precious chance for others – especially the United States and India – to build maritime security cooperation with China before Beijing forms any risky habit of solo military forays.

By Rory Medcalf
International Herald Tribune

China has long been a free rider on the ocean highways. It has enjoyed the benefits of maritime trade and energy routes, so vital to its economic boom, while other countries’ navies have kept them open.

Yet with growing wealth, pride and ambition come expectations that Beijing will contribute to the safety of an interdependent world. It was only a matter of time before China, along with the other awakening giant India, joined the club of maritime security providers, using their fleets simultaneously for self-interest and the common good, whether fighting piracy, interdicting smuggling or delivering disaster relief.

That day was hastened when the sea-brigands of Somalia caught Chinese vessels, cargoes and sailors in the net of their brazen raids. Press photos of Chinese mariners squatting at gunpoint on their hijacked trawler provided an incentive that was hard to resist. New Delhi’s idea that the Indian Ocean was India’s Ocean, plus its assertive policing, was another.

Destroyer sovremenny.jpg

China Warships Depart on Anti-Piracy Mission Near Somalia

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China’s Naval Task Force Departs For Historic Near Africa Mission; International Hopes

December 26, 2008

Three Chinese warships departed their homeland today a seemingly minor and some say symbolic anti-piracy mission near Somalia.

But the “out of area” deployment of Naval Warships from China is really the first such adventure in hundreds of years.

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a ceremony ... 
In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a ceremony is held before a Chinese naval fleet sets sail from a port in Sanya city of China’s southernmost island province of Hainan on Friday, Dec. 26, 2008. Chinese warships, armed with special forces, guided missiles and helicopters, set sail Friday for anti-piracy duty off Somalia, the first time the communist nation has sent ships on a mission that could involve fighting so far beyond its territorial waters.(AP Photo/Xinhua, Zha Chunming)

The three ships are the Guided Missile Destroyers Wuhan (DDG-169)  and Haikou (DDG-171), and the supply ship Weishanhu. The ships have about 800 crewmen and 70 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Special Forces soldiers embarked. 

China hopes this naval mission will be the first in many to foster cooperation and respect between Chinese forces and the naval forces of the international community.

Ships participating in the anti-piracy mission come from Britain, India, Iran, the United States, France and Germany.

On Wednesday, Japan said it was considering joining the coalition.

By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, a Chinese ... 
In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, a Chinese naval fleet including two destroyers and a supply ship from the South China Sea Fleet set off from Sanya, a coastal city of South China’s Hainan Province on Friday, Dec. 26, 2008. Chinese warships, armed with special forces, guided missiles and helicopters, set sail Friday for anti-piracy duty off Somalia, the first time the communist nation has sent ships on a mission that could involve fighting so far beyond its territorial waters.(AP Photo/Xinhua, Zha Chunming)

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Japan Readies Naval Mission to Fight Pirates

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, soldiers ...
In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, soldiers of Chinese navy special force carry out an anti pirate drill on the deck of DDG-171 Haikou destroyer in Sanya, capital of South China’s Hainan Province Thursday, Dec. 25, 2008. On Friday, warships armed with special forces, missiles and helicopters sailed for anti-piracy duty off Somalia, the first time the communist nation has sent ships on a mission that could involve fighting so far beyond its territorial waters.(AP Photo/Xinhua, Zha Chunming)


The Chinese naval fleet set sail at 1:50 p.m. on Friday from a port here in the southernmost island province of Hainan for Somalia. The ships will take part in an escort mission against piracy.

The warships of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, decorated by colored ribbons and flowers, were unmoored at the military port by crew members in white naval uniforms who saluted the crowds who saw them off.

China Daily and Xinhua

Two destroyers, DDG-169 Wuhan and DDG-171 Haikou, and the supply ship Weishanhu from the South Sea Fleet will cruise for about 10 days to arrive in the Gulf of Aden, joining the multinational patrol in one of the world’s busiest sea lanes where surging piracy endangers international shipping.

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Above: Missile Destroyer Haikou 171 of the PLA Navy’s South China Sea Fleet.  She departed with two other Chinese warships on a mission to the Gulf of Aden near Somali on anti-pirate patrol on Friday.  Many in the West see this as a sign of renewed cooperation between China and other military powers.


A Chinese naval task force departed from Sanya, a port in the nation’s southernmost province of Hainan, to fight pirates in waters off Somalia, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The ships sailed about 1:50 p.m. local time today, Xinhua reported. China is sending two destroyers and one supply ship supported by two helicopters, Senior Colonel Huang Xueping said on Dec. 23.

In the first 11 months of this year, 1,265 Chinese commercial ships passed through Somali waters, a fifth of which were assaulted by pirates, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Dec. 18.

Pirates operate along Somalia’s Indian Ocean coast, as well as in the Gulf of Aden, a transit point for the 20,000 ships a year using the Suez Canal.

By James Peng: Bloomberg

 China Says It Needs an Aircraft Carrier for “Comprehensive Power”
China Tells Somalia Pirates It Will Use Force if Necessary
China Anti-Pirate Mission Another Step in International Engagement

U.S. admiral wants China military ties resumed

Japan leader wins extension of navy’s Afghan mission

December 12, 2008

Japan’s governing party pushed through a law on Friday to extend a refueling mission by its navy in the Indian Ocean, allowing Tokyo to keep its small but symbolic presence in the U.S.-led military action in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister Taro Aso’s Liberal Democratic Party used its majority in Parliament’s more powerful lower house to override an earlier rejection of the bill by the opposition-controlled upper house. It was the second time this year that the governing party rammed through an extension of the refueling operation, a strong-arm tactic that risks alienating Japan’s pacifist public.

By Martin Fackler
International Herald Tribune

Japan's Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba (bottom-C) reviews ... 
Japan’s Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba (bottom-C) reviews an honor guard before the departure of its destroyer Murasame at Yokosuka Naval Base, suburban Tokyo in January 2008. The United States welcomed the Japanese parliament’s approval Friday of a one-year extension to a naval mission backing US-led operations in Afghanistan.(AFP/File/Toru Yamanaka)

Aso had sought quick passage so he could turn his attention to the global financial crisis, amid rising calls at home and abroad for Tokyo to take more action to stimulate its recession-bound economy. Hours after the refueling extension passed, he appeared on national television to announce billions of dollars in new spending and loans to create jobs and help cash-strapped companies.

Aso is struggling to overcome growing doubts about his leadership, which have driven his public approval rating down near 20 percent as his party faces crucial national elections later this year.

The refueling law passed Friday allows a Japanese Navy tanker and escorting destroyer to continue operating for another year in waters off Pakistan, where they provide fuel and water for American and other warships supporting operations in Afghanistan. While the mission has limited military value, it carries political significance as a test of Japan’s alliance with its biggest ally, the United States.

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File photo shows the Japanese naval ship Tokiwa, which had been ... 
File photo shows the Japanese naval ship Tokiwa, which had been involved in supporting the US-led “war on terror” in the Indian Ocean, arrives in Tokyo Port. Japan’s parliament Friday extended a naval mission backing US-led operations in Afghanistan by another year, relieving one headache for beleaguered conservative Prime Minister Taro Aso.(AFP/File/Toru Yamanaka)