Tag Archives: Indian Ocean

Onerous Debt and its Consequences

A Beijing-funded wharf in Vanuatu  is big enough to allow powerful warships to dock alongside it, heightening fears the port could be converted into a Chinese naval installation.  Fairfax Media inspected the $114 million Luganville wharf and was told US coastguard officials and Marines recently visited the sprawling facility and took a keen interest in its specifications.  The Chinese and Vanuatu governments have strenuously denied they have discussed a military base…

The Vanuatu government has taken on significant debt to China, though it appears to have stopped taking large loans since getting a stern warning from the International Monetary Fund in 2016.  The wharf expected to be used to accept container and cruise ships was constructed by the Shanghai Construction Company and opened with fanfare in the middle of 2017.   It is unclear whether the wharf loan contract with the Vanuatu government includes a so-called debt-equity swap clause, which would mean China could take over the facility if Vanuatu defaults on its payments. It has recently taken over the major port of Hambantota from Sri Lanka in these circumstances.

Malcolm Davis, a defence expert at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said it was “not by accident” that wharf had been built for large vessels.
“My guess is there’s a Trojan horse operation here that eventually will set up a large facility that is very modern and very well-equipped. They’ve done this before in other parts of the world. “Their hope is that the debt of the Vanuatu government will be so onerous that they can’t pay it back. The Chinese will say, ‘the facility is ours for 99 years’ and the next thing you’ve got a PLA Navy Luang III class [destroyer] docking there.

Excerpts from China and the Pacific: The Great Wharf, Economist, Apr. 21, 2018, at 33.

The Scramble for Maldives: US/India v. China

The Maldives archipelago, popular among luxury honeymooners, has become a playing field for geostrategic rivalry as China expands its influence in the Indian Ocean and the U.S. and India push back.

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who has steadily swung his country toward Beijing and away from traditional partner New Delhi, has imposed a state of emergency, jailed opponents and clamped down on protests to weaken his opposition, which is led by pro-India ex-President Mohamed Nasheed.

India and the U.S. don’t want Beijing, already dominant in the South China Sea, to entrench itself in these waters. The island nation sits astride shipping lanes that connect China to the oil-supplying countries of the Middle East, via the Strait of Malacca. The location also makes the Maldives vital to Beijing’s Belt and Road plan to develop land and sea trading routes linking China to Europe.

Chinese President Xi Jinping won Mr. Gayoom’s support for the project’s maritime corridor on a visit to the Maldives in 2014, and China began investing in island infrastructure. A Chinese bridge now under construction will connect the capital city, Malé, to a nearby island where its airport is located. A Chinese company is expanding the airport; another has leased an island close by for development. Chinese contractors are building roads and housing units for locals.

Many in the Maldives opposition have raised concerns that Chinese infrastructure loans will turn into “debt traps,” particularly after a major Chinese-financed port in neighboring Sri Lanka passed into Chinese control last year when Colombo couldn’t repay.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson…called China’s infrastructure-financing deals an example of “predatory economics” that saddle developing countries with unsustainable debt and could undercut their sovereignty.  Mr. Gayoom steered a constitutional amendment through parliament in 2015 allowing foreigners to own land, a change the government said was meant to attract investment and critics in the country said could help Beijing establish a military foothold.

In recent years, China has built a naval base in Djibouti in East Africa; in addition to the port in Sri Lanka, it operates one in Pakistan. A senior Indian navy officer said Chinese submarines and research vessels are visiting the Indian Ocean more frequently.

The Indian military deploys aircraft specialized in anti-submarine warfare to patrol the ocean, and its government is negotiating the purchase of U.S. drones with advanced surveillance features. India also plans to build new attack submarines, and a military upgrade is afoot in its Andaman and Nicobar Islands, whose capital is around 1,200 nautical miles from Malé.

Excerpts from China-India Rivarly Plays out in Maldives, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 6, 2019

India’s Nuclear Submarines

India has made another leap in its seemingly inexorable rise to military superpower by formally commissioning a Russian-made nuclear submarine.At a coastal naval base in Visakhapatnam, India’s defense minister commissioned the INS Chakra II vessel”This will be a big boost for the Indian navy,” Antony told reporters at the ceremony.  “The INS Chakra will ensure security and sovereignty of the country.”  The $1 billion, 8,140-tonne submarine, which can fire torpedoes, as well as nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, was leased by Moscow for a period of ten years…..

The Indian government is nearly finished developing its own Arihant-class nuclear-powered submarine. The leased Russian sub will likely be used to help train Indian crews on the intricacies of submarine operation and technology. Both crafts are expected to be on patrol by the end of the year.  “Our crews will get the experience of operating under water for several months at a go, unlike with the conventional diesel electric submarines, which have to come to surface at regular intervals,” a navy official told the Press Trust of India.

According to reports, India is anxious to upgrade its maritime fleet in order to compete with the Chinese Navy, which India views as a threat to, among other things, its energy security in the region and access to key shipping lanes.  India decommissioned its last Russian-made vessel in 1991.  India has promised not to arm the submarines with nuclear weapons, only cruise missiles, in honor of international non-proliferation and security treaties.

However, Pakistan is reportedly alarmed by India’s embrace of nuclear submarine technology, warning it could lead to a dangerous arms race in South Asia.  In response to Pakistan’s fears, Antony told Indian media: “India does not believe in [an] arms race. We are not a confrontationist nation. We are a peace-loving nation….but, at the same time, the armed forces will be strengthened to meet any challenge. We have a vast land border. We have more than 7500 [kilometers] of coastline… We have to protect the sea lanes of our core area of interest.”….

Only five other nations on earth — Britain, China, France, Russia and the US. — have deployed nuclear submarines.  According to the World Nuclear Association, the U.S. has, by far, the most nuclear-powered submarines, with a fleet of 71. Russia is a distant second at 21; while China is believed to have ten.

Excerpt, By Palash R. Ghosh, India Joins Nuclear Submarine Community; Pakistan Alarmed, April 4, 2012