Wednesday, October 05, 2005

India's Alternate Sea Lanes?

The Andaman and Nicobar islands are 745 miles from the Indian mainland. Reuters interviewed Lieutenant General Aditya Singh, Commander-in-Chief of the Integrated Army, Airforce and Navy Command at Port Blair on September 29. Here's my take.

Reports suggest that China plans dual purpose naval facilities in the Greater Cocos islands off Burma, Marao in the Maldives, Gwadar in Pakistan and Bandar Abbas in Iran. It has reportedly offered to provide the US$ 20 billion needed for Thailand to construct the "Kra canal" that would dissect the 60 mile Kra isthmus and divert shipping from the Straits of Malacca. This would reduce shipping time. The forward bases in the Indian Ocean are part of a broader Chinese effort to safeguard its access to energy reserves in the Middle East and to neutralize India. There are huge costs and environmental consequences. A simpler option under consideration would be to construct a railroad linking the South China Sea and the Bay of Bengal across the isthmus in southern Thailand.

Regardless of whether Thailand opts for the Kra canal or an overland rail route linked to ports on either side, container ships would have to navigate through the 10 Degree channel that bisects the Andaman and Nicobar islands. India becomes the direct beneficiary of the investment in Thai infrastructure. India also plans to invest in an oil terminal and trans-shipment port in Campal Bay in Nicobar closer to Singapore. Plans are afoot to link Port Blair by air with Banda Aceh, Phuket and Singapore.

India's integration with South East Asia is increasingly relevant to the emerging geo-strategic equation. India and Thailand concluded joint naval maneuvers near the Straits of Malacca last week. India conducted a similar naval exercise with Indonesia. India and the United States ended their biggest ever joint naval exercise code named Malabar 05 yesterday. This involved aircraft carriers, submarines and frigates near the Laccadive archipelago in the Arabian Sea.

1 comment:

Arundhati Rajasingham said...

Jaffna,

You might have a point. India appears to have check mated China in the Bay of Bengal at least. The Nicobar Islands dominate the entrance to the straits of Malacca while the Andaman Islands overlook the Kra Isthmus. The Indian navy's engagement with Myanmar neutralizes Chinese attempts to secure a toe hold there. And India had signed legal agreements with Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia on its maritime boundaries - in stark contrast to the example of China and Japan where disputes on the maritime border continue as illustrated in an earlier blog of yours. Sri Lanka is only too mindful of India's importance not to openly court China as it did in the 1970s.

Jaffna, we are proud of you.

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