The Geopolitical Struggle for Influence in the Indian Ocean Region

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In the article, “The Geopolitical Struggle for Influence in the Indian Ocean Region,” the focus is on the growing competition between major powers, particularly the United States and China, for influence in the Indian Ocean. While the US has been pushing for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and establishing alliances in the Pacific, its attention towards smaller nations in the Indian Ocean has been limited. On the other hand, China has been actively expanding its presence in the region, forging diplomatic ties, and investing in infrastructure projects through its Belt and Road Initiative.

The Indian Ocean’s strategic importance cannot be underestimated. It serves as a primary transit route for China’s engagement with Africa and the Middle East, as well as its main trading route to Europe. With exclusive access to their surrounding waters, the six island nations in the Indian Ocean – Sri Lanka, Seychelles, Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, and the Comoros – hold significant economic and geopolitical value. Additionally, the region hosts critical choke points for global trade, such as the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz, and Bab al-Mandeb.

However, the US approach to the Indo-Pacific has largely overlooked the Indian Ocean, focusing more on the Pacific and the South China Sea. Experts argue that the US wants to ensure that the Indian Ocean does not overshadow the interconnected Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic theaters. As a result, smaller Indian Ocean nations feel neglected in US policy discussions, while China takes advantage of the opportunity to expand its influence.

China’s presence in the Indian Ocean has raised concerns among other major powers, including the US and India. They view China’s infrastructure investments and naval activities as part of its broader “string-of-pearls” strategy, which aims to establish Chinese ports along the Indian Ocean coastline. India, in particular, worries about the possibility of Chinese military bases in neighboring countries, such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

To effectively counter China’s ambitions, experts emphasize the need for the US to engage directly with the smaller nations in the Indian Ocean and develop a comprehensive national strategy focused on the region. Relying solely on India may not be sufficient, as smaller countries are already wary of India’s dominance and perceive US-India relations through the lens of their own interests. By recognizing the development goals and challenges faced by these smaller nations, the US can establish meaningful partnerships and contribute to stability and security in the Indian Ocean region.

In conclusion, the article highlights the growing geopolitical struggle for influence in the Indian Ocean region. While China actively expands its presence and investments, the US has primarily focused on the Pacific, underestimating the significance of the Indian Ocean. The competition for control over strategic maritime routes and partnerships with smaller nations in the region has implications for global trade, security, and the balance of power between major players.