The string of pearls and the Maritime Silk Road

By Zhou Bo
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, February 12, 2014
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The rivalry between the Elephant and Dragon is often hyped, but India would not challenge China unnecessarily. There is no dispute between China and India in the Indian Ocean. The Line of Actual Control along the Sino-Indian border has by and large remained peaceful. Although there were a few standoffs, not a single bullet was fired across the border in over fifty years. The queer idea of China encircling India from the sea with the help of Pakistan only exists in the wildest imagination of some Indian “strategists”.

Access, rather than bases, is what the Chinese Navy is really interested in the Indian Ocean. The unchartered waters of the Indian Ocean could be friendlier than the disputed waters in the Pacific. In the Pacific Ocean, China has territorial disputes with a number of countries, but this is not the case in the Indian Ocean. The security of SLOCs is thus in the interests of all other nations. The under-going counter-piracy mission involves Navies from over twenty countries. It could serve as a future mode of cooperation of stake-holders in the Indian Ocean addressing common threats.

Interestingly the route of Chinese Task Forces departing the southern Chinese coast for fighting piracy in the Indian Ocean is not dissimilar from the Maritime Silk Road that Admiral Zheng He and his fleet embarked upon in 1405. Currently, the Chinese leadership is reinvigorating the Maritime Silk Road. China tabled a 3 billion Yuan China-ASEAN Maritime Cooperation Fund for the maritime economy, environment, fishery and salvage, and communications on the sea. In October 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed to ASEAN that it build the Maritime Silk Road of the 21st century. This coincides with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s pledge to upgrade the Gold Decade (2000-2010) of China-ASEAN cooperation into a Diamond Decade. In the Indian Ocean, China is cooperating with littoral states in building the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and China- India-Myanmar-Bangladesh Economic Corridor. These mega-projects, with heavy investment from China, will fundamentally change the political and economic landscape of the Indian Ocean and benefit all countries in the region. They will also help to mitigate security concerns in the Maritime Silk Road, ranging from territorial disputes in the South China Sea to transnational threats such as piracy, armed robbery and terrorism.

In the 15th century, Admiral Zheng He went on his seven voyages to the West Pacific and the Indian Ocean with the largest naval fleet in the world. These voyages were not aimed for conquest of peoples or of territory. Instead, they were visits to swap Chinese silk and porcelain for exotic souvenirs such as zebras and giraffes. Zheng He didn’t venture to establish bases either. In so doing, he left a legacy that is intangible but invaluable for China today. It is an image of China that the Chinese people would like to project again in the 21st century as they did 600 years ago: a country standing tall in the center of world, strong yet benign, and friendly to all.

Zhou Bo is an honorary fellow with Center of China-American Defense Relations, Academy of Military Science.

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