26 November 2010

Hambantota, Chittagong, and the Maldives—Unlikely Pearls for the Chinese Navy

Daniel Kostecka, Hambantota, Chittagong, and the Maldives—Unlikely Pearls for the Chinese Navy,” Jamestown China Brief, Vol. 10, No. 23 (19 November 2010).

Much of the discussion regarding China’s maritime ambitions in the Indian Ocean has revolved around the so-called “String of Pearls” strategy that Beijing is alleged to be pursuing. As part of this strategic construct it is claimed that Beijing is building a comprehensive network of naval bases stretching from southern China to Pakistan. This theory, a creation of a 2004 U.S. Department of Defense contractor study entitled Energy Futures in Asia, is now accepted as fact by many in official and unofficial circles. While the study contains some useful arguments, certain elements of it have been selectively quoted as singular evidence of Beijing’s strategic intent in this region. In spite of the lack of evidentiary proof supporting the assertion that China intends to turn these facilities into military bases, claims regarding future bases in these locations for the Chinese Navy continue to this day, particularly in the United States and India. This is somewhat ironic given that in past six months, Sri Lanka’s president and Bangladesh’s foreign minister stated publicly that China’s investments in port facilities in their nations are strictly commercial while over the past year the Maldives under the leadership of a new pro-Indian president reached out to New Delhi, not Beijing, to assist with maritime security for the island archipelago.

From the Chinese perspective, in June 2009 Senior Captain Xie Dongpei of the PLA Navy stated that China’s port construction in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Pakistan was strictly commercial. Further, in a 2004 article Senior Captain Xu Qi discussed Chinese investment in port facilities in the Indian Ocean within the same context as Chinese commercial investments in Russia, Africa, and the Caribbean as well the importance of China’s membership in the World Trade Organization. Yet, despite strident denials from high level officials, rumors of Chinese military activity in these nations will not cease. This article will examine allegations of Chinese military facilities in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and the Maldives to include the practical benefits of these locations for China’s security. …