China’s growing focus on Indian Ocean irks India

Reuters | Aug 31, 2010 | 5:15pm IST

India China relations India expressed concerns on Tuesday about China’s influence in the Indian Ocean region, the latest sign of tension between the Asian giants who are competing for resources and geopolitical power in the region. India’s Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna’s comments to parliament follows a row between the two countries over China’s denial of a visa to an Indian army general that angered New Delhi and clouded their slowly improving military ties. "The government of India has come to realise that China has been showing more than the normal interest in Indian Ocean affairs," Krishna told lawmakers. "We are closely monitoring the Chinese intentions. We are closely monitoring the developments in the Indian Ocean."

India worries that China’s military is seeking to extend influence over countries such as Sri Lanka that New Delhi has traditionally counted within its sphere of influence. Beijing’s territorial claims this year over the South China Sea have only bolstered such fears. While trade has grown 30-fold since 2000, the tension highlights how economic ties alone may not be enough to resolve the two countries growing friction over their disputed borders and role as emerging global powers. China has invested in the Gwadar port in Pakistan, the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota and the mining and energy sectors in Myanmar, part of a strategy to protect shipping lanes in a region that feeds 80 percent of China’s and 65 percent of India’s oil needs.

India fears huge Chinese investments in these countries are part of a plan to encircle it in a "string of pearls". Distrust between the two economic powerhouses dates back to a 1962 border war, partly over Arunachal Pradesh that China claims in full. China’s support for India’s foe Pakistan, which backs the Kashmir separatists and also claims the region in full, has exacerbated the tensions with Delhi. But the two Asian giants jointly advocate for the interests of emerging economies through forums such as the Group of 20 and on climate change and trade.

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