Gaining Control of Indian Ocean

From the November 2007 Trumpet Print Edition

China is seeking greater strategic control over the Indian Ocean. With 85 percent of its trade being sea-based, this historic land power has been striving to increase its maritime routes over the past two decades. As the oceanic route between China and the Middle East, the Indian Ocean is of vital strategic importance to Beijing. China is moving to control this trade route.

This past March, the Chinese-financed port of Gwadar opened in Pakistan. Then, in early September, the financial adviser to the Pakistani prime minister, Dr. Salman Shah, met with Chinese bankers, financial institution leaders and shipbuilding company representatives to discuss the Chinese-Pakistani joint construction of two giant shipyards in Gwadar and Port Qasim. These shipbuilding facilities are to cover approximately 500 acres each and have the capacity to hold 600,000 tons of dry weight cargo, making them ideal for the construction of heavyweight ships. The Chinese—already the world’s fourth-largest shipbuilders—will have joint control over Gwadar and at least a strong presence in Port Qasim.

The Chinese Navy’s presence in Gwadar and Port Qasim gives Beijing a measure of control over one of Earth’s most strategic sea gates, the Strait of Hormuz, which is the entrance to the Persian Gulf. Through this strait passes 13 million barrels of Middle Eastern oil each day. It is for this reason that Gwadar has been called the “Chinese Gibraltar.”

China is in a key position to exert its influence over the Strait of Hormuz, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.

The Panama Canal has been under the control of a Chinese firm since 1999. In addition to Gwadar and Port Qasim in Pakistan, China is also currently interested in Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port and Myanmar’s Sitwe (Akyab) Port. Beijing’s entrance into the Indian Ocean represents yet another prize for this aggressively expanding naval heavyweight.

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