Tag Archives: Andaman Islands

Fish, Gas and Minerals: the Arctic

Mr Xi has been showing a growing interest in Arctic countries. In 2014 he revealed in a speech that China itself wanted to become a “polar great power”..,,In January 2018 the Chinese government published its first policy document outlining its Arctic strategy.

China is also keen to tap into the Arctic resources that will become easier to exploit as the ice cap retreats. They include fish, minerals, oil and gas. The region could hold a quarter of the world’s as-yet-undiscovered hydrocarbons, according to the United States Geological Survey. Chinese firms are interested in mining zinc, uranium and rare earths in Greenland.

As the ice melts, it may become more feasible for cargo ships to sail through Arctic waters. China is excited by this possibility (its media speak of an “ice silk road”). In the coming decades such routes could cut several thousand kilometres off journeys between Shanghai and Europe. Sending ships through the Arctic could also help to revive port cities in China’s north-eastern rustbelt… China is thinking of building ports and other infrastructure in the Arctic to facilitate shipping. State-linked firms in China talk of building an Arctic railway across Finland.

Chinese analysts believe that using Arctic routes would help China strategically, too. It could reduce the need to ship goods through the Malacca Strait, a choke-point connecting the Pacific and Indian oceans. Much of China’s global shipping passes through the strait. It worries endlessly about the strait’s vulnerability to blockade—for example, should war break out with America.

There are no heated territorial disputes in the Arctic, but there are sensitivities, including Canada’s claim to the North-West Passage, a trans-Arctic waterway that America regards as international—ie, belonging to no single state.

Plenty of non-Arctic countries, including European ones, have similar dreams. But China is “by far the outlier” in terms of the amount of money it has pledged or already poured into the region, says Marc Lanteigne of Massey University in New Zealand. Its biggest investments have been in Russia, including a gas plant that began operating in Siberia in December 2017. Russia was once deeply cynical about China’s intentions. But since the crisis in Ukraine it has had to look east for investment in its Arctic regions.

The interest shown by Chinese firms could be good news for many Arctic communities. Few other investors have shown themselves willing to stomach the high costs and slow pay-offs involved in developing the far north…. The main concern of Arctic countries is that China’s ambitions will result in a gradual rewiring of the region’s politics in ways that give China more influence in determining how the Arctic is managed. Greenland is a place to watch. Political elites there favour independence from Denmark but resist taking the plunge because the island’s economy is so dependent on Danish support. The prospect of Chinese investment could change that. Should Greenland become independent, China could use its clout there to help further its own interests at meetings of Arctic states, in the same way that it uses its influence over Cambodia and Laos to prevent the Association of South-East Asian Nations from criticising Chinese behaviour in their neighbourhood.

Excerpts from The Arctic: A Silk Road through Ice, Economist, Apr. 14, 2018, at 37

The Andaman Islands as a Chokepoint of China

Andaman. image wikipedia

Hawks in Delhi who are suspicious of Chinese long-term aims say bluntly that India and its friends will acquire some sway over China only once the Andamans are treated as a “chokepoint”, a place to disrupt Chinese trade in the event of any future confrontation. Four-fifths of Chinese oil imports go through the strait. Chinese naval strategists warn of Indian designs to drop an “iron curtain” there…. Certainly, activity on the islands is growing. An air base that opened two years ago in Campbell Bay, Great Nicobar, has taken Indian military aircraft 300km closer than before to the Malacca Strait. Other airstrips are reportedly being built or lengthened to handle big aircraft, including the Hercules transport plane. Airfields for helicopters will follow. The navy wants to deploy drones to track passing ships. New coastguard stations serve a similar purpose. Regular naval exercises with neighbours are interspersed with big international training manoeuvres hosted in the Andamans and named “Millan”. The most recent involved 17 navies in a disaster-relief exercise meant to mark a decade after the 2004 Asian tsunami.

Such expansion, however, lacks clear purpose. The Andamans have a population of 400,000 and can support a large military presence only with difficulty. Communications are poor—at least until a long-promised submarine cable from the mainland arrives. And the economy is dependent on money and goods from mainland India. Mr Singh argues that for the Andamans to become robust, their economy must first develop. For that, he wants a big boost to tourism, including direct flights from Phuket in Thailand, only 45 minutes’ flying time away. Fisheries should also grow. One businessman in Port Blair shows off a haul of several dozen carcasses of huge yellowfin tuna. Yet real development faces all sorts of hurdles. They include a lack of available land because of strict—and certainly necessary—protection for indigenous tribal groups and valuable rainforest. India may yet develop the islands into a big military asset, but it has to balance the interests of civilians, too. It is going to be a slow boat.

The Andaman Islands: From outpost to springboard, Economist, Sept. 13, 2014, at 46

See also Bay of Bengal, Indigenous Peoples Andaman Islands

Indigenous Peoples as Human Zoo, the human safaris

“Dance,” the policeman instructed. The girls in front of him, naked from the waist up, obeyed. A tourist’s camera panned round to another young woman, also naked and awkwardly holding a bag of grain in front of her. “Dance for me,” the policeman commanded.  The young woman giggled, looked shy and hopped from foot to foot. The camera swung back to the others who clapped, swayed and jumped.

This kind of video is the trophy tourists dream of when they set off into the jungles of the Andaman Islands “on safari”. The beauty of the forest functions merely as a backdrop. The goal of the trip is to seek out the Jarawa, a reclusive tribe only recently contacted, which is taking the first tentative steps towards a relationship with the outside world.  The Jarawa tribe is 403-strong. Its members are trusting, innocent and hugely vulnerable to exploitation, living in a jungle reserve on South Andaman. The islands are a spectacular magnet for tourists, set in the Bay of Bengal and belonging to India.

The role of the police is to protect tribespeople from unwelcome and intrusive outsiders. But on this occasion the officer had accepted a-