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Chinese Military Base In The Indian Ocean Near Maldives To Complete ‘String Of Pearls’ Around India?

Why a Chinese military base in the Indian Ocean region near the Maldives makes India both furious and nervous? How will New Delhi counter the Chinese string of pearls?

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Chinese military base near the Maldives in the Indian ocean could soon turn into a reality if the latest developments are to be believed. A military base by arch-foe China in the Indian Ocean region near the Maldives could further fuel Indian concerns over ‘string of pearls”, explains Nitin J Ticku while talking to the EurAsian Times.

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For India, the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and the countries located in the region including the Maldives are of strategic importance and New Delhi considers them as a part of its sphere of influence. However, the latest reports show that India has a major threat developing right at its Achilles.

Can China Construct A Military Bases In The Indian Ocean?

According to the latest satellite images, and earlier reports by the EurAsian Times, the Chinese leased Maldivian island of Feydhoo Finolhu Island has undergone a massive facelift. The island, leased until 2066 by China from the Maldivian government for $4 million, has seen a dramatic increase in size from 38,000 sq. metres to 100,000 sq meters and is undergoing rapid construction as well.

The construction on this island as well as the face-lift mirrors Chinese actions on the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. After denying any militarization ambitions, Beijing did acknowledge creating a military base on the island and justified its actions by saying that it ‘’has a natural right as a sovereign nation. ‘’

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Chinese Military Base A Threat To India?

According to Nitin J Ticku, an analyst with the EurAsian Times, the rapid construction on the island indicates a strong possibility of Chinese establishing a military base in the Indian Ocean region.

This threatens India on a two-fold basis. First, India considers the countries in the Indian Ocean including the Maldives to fall under its sphere of influence. It has always maintained friendly relations with all countries in the region and a possible Chinese military base threatens this status quo.

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Secondly, the geographical proximity of a base at Feydhoo Islands poses a direct threat to Indian security and freedom of movement in the Indian Ocean. If established, the Chinese military base would be only 900 km away from Minicoy Island in the Union Territory and close to 1000kms from the Indian mainland.

Nitin J Ticku fears that the Chinese military outpost could be used to dock nuclear submarines in the region or collect hydrological data to track sub-surface operations of India like deployment submarines.

Shipping vessels using the strategic route could also face threats of bullying and at the time of conflict, Beijing would be able to control and limit activities.

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A military base in the Maldives would tilt the geopolitical balance towards China. Currently, India does not have any military bases in the area and has only established radar outposts or surveillance systems in Seychelles, Madagascar and Mauritius.

To top it all, India is already facing increased Chinese hostilities in the Indian Ocean region. Beijing regularly sends research and survey ships and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) to map different parts of the water body. The presence of the 35th Fleet of the Chinese Navy has added to the Indian woes.

Chinese Military Base In Maldives & String of Pearls

Chinese ambitions to acquire a military base in the Maldives can be explained via the String of Pearl’s theory. The theory refers to the network of Chinese military and commercial facilities developed by Beijing in countries in the Indian Ocean region stretching from the Chinese mainland to the Middle East.

The Chinese government has vehemently denied that such a strategy exists but its actions say otherwise. Beijing has access to outposts in strategic locations in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Djibouti.

In Myanmar, China has control over Kyaukpyu port, a commercial maritime facility that can be doubled as a military facility should conflict ever arise. China also maintains a naval intelligence unit at a base in Coco Islands, near the UT of Andaman and Nicobar Island.

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In Sri Lanka, a Chinese company has leased the Hambantota Port for 99 years as part of a deal with the government. New Delhi fears that the port could eventually be used by Beijing to dock submarines. Similar fears are shared for the port in Gwadar in Pakistan which was also developed by the Chinese under CPEC.

With ports in all three countries, China is now left without access to an outpost in the Indian Ocean and the speculated military base near the Maldives could change this. If and when the base is established, China would have surrounded India on all three sides in the Indian Ocean.

Chinese Reviving Ties With Indian Ocean Nations 

China’s efforts to woo the Maldives is evident even in the times of COVID-19 crisis. Male received its first shipment of aid to tackle coronavirus from Beijing. It included protective masks, surgical masks, gloves, stethoscopes, goggles and protective suits.

Nitin J Tikcu says that the Chinese are trying to revive its relationship with the Maldives which changed in 2018. Longtime China supporter Abdulla Yameen was ousted in the general election and China-sceptic Ibrahim Mohammed Solih was voted into power.

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Outstanding debt of around $1.5 billion (2018) gives China leverage to have its way in the Maldives. So far, Beijing has seized 17 islands through an “opaque leasing process”, which means that projects started as real estate projects before turning into something else. Even if China was to turn the Feydhoo Islands into a military base, Maldives does not have the firepower to stop it.

While the situation in the Maldives may not outrightly favour India, New Delhi recently announced that regardless of the COVID-19 crisis, the Indian Navy remains battle-ready. Subtler messages were sent to Beijing as Indian Navy flexed its maritime might with naval destroyers guided navy ships carrying Indian citizens home on repatriation voyages.

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India is not leaving any stone unturned to turn the tide in its direction in the Indian Ocean region. Under the repatriation mission, India is also assisting Maldives, Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles and Mauritius by offering medical aid, supplies and health professionals to tackle the COVID-19 crisis and keep its influence intact.

The Indian Ocean has the potential to become the new theatre of conflict between India and China. Already engaged in the higher-ups of the Himalayas near Ladakh and Sikkim, Maldives could be the next location for a standoff between the two Asian giants.

Penned By Armaan Srivastava for the EurAsian Times. Views Personnel

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Americas

Trump’s Mediation Offer ‘Naive’; US Actually Wants India To Challenge Chinese Dominance: Russian Experts

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As Trump’s offer to mediate the India-China border conflict has publically failed, experts argue that “Washington’s policy-makers, who seek to pit the Indians against the Chinese, maybe as naïve as Trump”.

The fierce military standoff between China and India that has been in the headlines for over a month now started in early May when clashes erupted between the troops of both the nuclear nations, that left scores of soldiers injured from both the sides driving a steady build-up of troops in the border region.

The US President, Donald Trump had recently offered to “mediate and arbitrate” the conflict, however, the offered was duly refused by both the involved countries.

Artyom Lukin, an associate professor of international relations at Far Eastern Federal University in Russia opines that Trump’s mediation offer “was perhaps inspired by his recent success in bringing about an OPEC+ deal that ended a brutal oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.”

In April this year, with Trump’s apparent mediation, the oil giants Saudi Arabia led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russia led by President Vladimir Putin with 21 other countries as a part of the OPEC+ agreement collectively agreed to reduce oil output by 9.7 million barrels per day between May and June, in an attempt to combat the drop in international demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pentagon on Trump’s offer

It is reported that Pentagon and experts in Washington do not share the same perspective as Trump’s on the issue of mediation. Lukin believes that “they understand that a rising and ambitious India is the only realistic counter-balance against China.

There are just no other candidates for this role. Russia is in cahoots with China. Japan is a declining and militarily weak power.”

It is widely understood that to maintain control over the whole Eurasian region, “the US needs to keep this super-continent divided against itself, which means never allowing a true rapprochement between Asia’s two biggest powers, India and China.”

Trump’s failure to mediate the Sino-Indian conflict

Lukin puts forward two primary reasons for Trump’s failure to intervene in the Sino-Indian conflict. “Firstly, it is difficult to be an effective mediator or arbiter in international politics if you don’t have leverage over the parties in question.”

He believes that in the case of India and China, “it is not clear what rewards or penalties the US has in reserve for China and India. Most likely there are none.”

Secondly, the scholar in international relations claims that “the best mediator is one that is perceived as unbiased and impartial. On this count, the White House has an obvious handicap, since the US views India as a crucial associate and friend, while China is considered a competitor and rival.”

The Blame on China

US’s rivalry with China has been taken into account by many international critics. Apart from the trade war and technology rivalry, Washington blamed Beijing for the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and has also pointed at China for playing aggressively in the disputed Himalayan region.

It is reported that Alice Wells, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, called China’s behaviour “aggression, the constant attempt to shift the norms, to shift what is the status quo, that has to be resisted whether it’s in the South China Sea… or whether it’s in India’s own backyard, both on land as well as in the Indian Ocean.”

On the flip side, Indian defence experts like Lt Gen H S Panag believes that China’s is ultimately protecting its own “status quo,” that is continuously been threatened by India’s strategic growth in the contested territories along the border.

Since New Delhi seeks to maximize its benefits from the partnerships that it shares with the US, it strategically refrains from being involved in American-led efforts to contain China. “In this sense, Washington’s policy-makers, who seek to pit the Indians against the Chinese, maybe as naive as Trump with his peace-making initiatives” concludes Lukin.

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Asia Pacific

Philippines wants continued, strong military partnership with the US: DFA

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Manila, June 3 — Manila seeks to continue its strong military partnership with the United States as it suspends the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Wednesday.

“We look forward to continuing our strong military partnership with US even as we continue to reach out to our regional allies in building common defense towards enduring stability and peace, and continuing economic progress and prosperity in our part of the world,” he said in a speech.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in a diplomatic note dated June 1, informed the US embassy about the suspension of abrogation for half a year. Following notification in February 2020, the accord was originally set for the termination in August.

Defending President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision, Locsin said the suspension was in line with the developments in the region and the Philippines’ national interest.

“In the vast and swiftly changing circumstances of the world, in a time of pandemic and heightened superpower tensions, a world leader must be quick in mind and fast on his feet for the safety of our nation and the peace of the world,” he said.

He also assured that the action “alarms no country in Asia and the rest of the world” as it even “greatly assures everyone”.

Covid-19, SCS among factors

In a separate interview Wednesday, Philippine Ambassador in Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez said the decision was influenced by several factors, including the coronavirus pandemic and recent developments in the South China Sea.

“Obviously, the situation as far as the pandemic is concerned is a major concern as far as the Visiting Forces Agreement. As a matter of fact, many of the Balikatan exercises had to be moved or cannot be obviously be implemented because of the pandemic so that’s one,” he said in an ANC interview.

“The political reason, obviously, is there’s quite a number of things that are happening right now in the South China Sea, very clearly we see that and so because of security issues and many things that are happening in the world, both I think our governments have seen that it would be prudent for us to just simply suspend first any implementation of the termination,” he added.

Although surrounded with “many issues”, the VFA in itself is a vehicle to implement exercises between Washington and Manila under the context of the Mutual Defense Treaty.

In the long run, Romualdez said the Philippines has to find some form of mechanism to continue with the defense pact.

“The President has always said that he has no intention of abrogating our Mutual Defense Treaty which was signed in 1951, that in itself is already an indication that we have to have some mechanism on how we can continue with that defense treaty,” he said.

“The VFA was obviously a vehicle for which we will be able to implement many of these exercises but it has been under review for many years even before President Duterte, there are many issues, of course, that need to be resolved… In the long run we need to have some form of agreement to be able to implement our defense treaty with the US,” he said.

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Asia Pacific

India-China Border Clash: Russia ‘Worried’ About Standoff Between Two Great Allies

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After the US, Russia has expressed anxiety over the border clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and urged India and China to address the issue through established bilateral dialogue mechanisms.

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“Of course we are worried with the current situation at LAC, reported the Economic Times.

However, as we know, there are specified mechanisms developed by both the nations including hotlines, special representatives dialogue, and informal summits. We are positive that India and China would be able to to find a solution. We would encourage every attempt in this regard,” Russian Deputy Ambassador to India Roman Babushkin told ET.

This is the first statement by Russia since the border clash first broke out between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Ladakh region along the LAC.

Earlier, both India and China also pledged to use the bilateral mechanism to solve the raging border conflict. Referring to SCO-RIC mechanism Babushkin said – We think it is vital to improve Russia-India-China (RIC) dialogue as well as SCO-based coordination as essential for regional security and boosting mutual trust.” Russia presently holds the SCO chairmanship.

Earlier, as EurAsian Times reported, US president Doland Trump had reiterated his offer to mediate between India and China over the border dispute between the two nuclear-armed nations.

Trump has said that he talked with Indian PM about the “big conflict” and asserted that the PM Modi s not in a “good mood” over the latest flare-ups.

Speaking with the reporters in the White House on Thursday, President Trump said a “big conflict” was going on between India and China. “I like your prime minister a lot. He is a great gentleman,” the president said.

“Have a big conflict …India and China. Two countries with 1.4 billion people (each). Two countries with very powerful armies. India is not happy and probably China is not happy,” he said when asked if he was worried about the border situation between India and China.

Trump had earlier offered to mediate between India and China to resolve the border conflict and had tweeted – “ready, willing and able to mediate” between the two countries. Responding to a question on his tweet, Trump repeated his proposal, saying if called for help, “I would do that (mediate). If they thought it would help” about “mediate or arbitrate, I would do that,” he said.

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