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Prelims Capsule

International Relations

China String of Pearls strategy to encircle India

China String of Pearls strategy to encircle India


  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & its Neighbours || China

What is a String of pearls?

  • The String of Pearls is a strategy deployed by China, by building a network of commercial and military bases and ports in many countries.
  • China deployed it to protect its trade interests, as a major chunk of its trade passes through the Indian Ocean and various choke points like the Strait of Hormuz, Strait of Malacca, and Lombok Strait as well as other strategic maritime centres in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Somalia.

The motive behind the strategy

  • The string of Pearls refers to the Chinese intention to establish a network in Indian Ocean Region (IOR) surrounding India.
  • Each Pearl represents some form of permanent Chinese military installation in a series of locations along a String. The recent development of ports around India, in Gwadar, Hambantota, Sittwe on the Bay of Bengal Coast in Myanmar, etc. are seen as part of a string of pearls.
  • Although these are commercial ports, the fear is that these could be easily converted to Naval facilities in case of a conflict in India.

What are the implications of the String of Pearl doctrine?

  • Strategic Impact
    • Strings of pearls will lead to China encircling India. China, which has no access to the Indian Ocean, will be able to dominate it.
    • India’s current strategic clout in the Indian Ocean will be diminished. Countries that see India as a counter-balance to China may find themselves in China’s crosshairs.
  • Threat to India’s national security
    • According to defence analysts, this doctrine, along with initiatives such as the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor and other components of China’s One Belt and One Road Initiative, pose a threat to India’s national security.
    • Such a system would encircle India, threatening its power projection, trade, and possibly territorial integrity.
  • Threat to India’s maritime security
    • It jeopardizes India’s maritime security. China is increasing its firepower by building more submarines, destroyers, vessels, and ships. Their presence will endanger India’s security on the water.
    • Furthermore, China’s support for India’s traditional enemy of Pakistan and the construction of its Gwadar Port is viewed as a threat, compounded by fears that China may develop an overseas naval military base in Gwadar, which could allow China to conduct expeditionary warfare in the Indian Ocean region.
  • Impact on India’s Resources
    • The impact on the Indian economy will be that Indian resources will be diverted to defence and security.
    • As a result, the economy will not reach its full potential, stifling economic growth. This could exacerbate instability in India and the entire east and southeast region.

Asian Naval Bases

  • China is funding port projects in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Myanmar to encircle India with naval bases.
  • Pakistan
    • As part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, China established a naval base in Gwadar, Pakistan.
    • This port will allow China to attack India from the west in the event of a war. China is selling fighter jets, submarines, and nuclear assistance to Pakistan for it to respond forcefully to the Indian attack.
  • Bangladesh
    • China established its presence in this country by establishing a naval base at Chittagong Port. Bangladesh has recently announced plans to purchase two submarines from China for self-defence.
  • Sri Lanka
    • China intends to take over the Sri Lanka Hambantota port to strengthen its naval operations in the Indian Ocean.
    • China is also providing technical and financial assistance to this country so that it can allow its territory to be used against India if necessary.
  • Myanmar
    • China is strengthening military and economic ties with this Indian neighbour to use its territory against India.
  • Maldives
    • This country is located in the Indian Ocean, near the Indian island of Lakshadweep. China has also established an army base in this country. So that it can take a firm stand against India in the Indian Ocean.
  • Seychelles
    • Seychelles allowed China to establish a naval base in exchange for monetary assistance from China.
    • This country may also be important in the naval conflict between India and China.

Africa Naval Base- Djibouti

  • China has set up a first-ever abroad naval base in Djibouti in 2017.
  • China argues that the Djibouti base is to support anti-piracy, UN peacekeeping, and humanitarian relief missions.
  • The presence of a naval base in Djibouti has fueled Indian concerns that it is part of China’s strategy to encircle the Indian subcontinent with the help of military alliances and assets in Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

Steps taken by India to counter the string of pearls so far

  • Act East Policy
    • India’s Act East Policy, which was launched to integrate the Indian economy with the economies of Southeast Asian nations.
    • It has been used to reach important military and strategic agreements with Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore, all of which have aided India in its fight against China.
  • Military ties and naval exercises with other nations
    • India has developed strategic naval ties with Myanmar to upgrade and train its navy, giving India a larger footprint in the region.
    • India has also entered into strategic military cooperation agreements in the region with Japan, Australia, and the United States.
    • The four countries carry out joint military exercises in the IOR region and are known as the ‘Quad’
  • Port building in strategically located areas
    • Chabahar port in Iran
      • India is developing Chabahar port in Iran, which will provide a new land-sea route to Central Asian countries that will bypass Pakistan.
      • Chhabahar gives India a strategic advantage because it overlooks the Gulf of Oman, a vital oil supply route.
    • Sabang in Indonesia
      • India is constructing a deep-sea port in Indonesia called Sabang. It is strategically important because it is close to the Malacca Strait and India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
    • Sittwe in Myanmar
      • In 2016, Myanmar and India constructed a deep-water port in Sittwe.
    • Mongla in Bangladesh
      • India would assist Bangladesh in modernizing the Mongla Sea Port. India can also use Bangladesh’s Chittagong port.
    • Changi in Singapore
      • India has signed an agreement to access Changi Naval Base of Singapore, which is strategically located close to the Strait of Malacca.
    • Hormuz in Oman
      • India has signed agreements to gain access to Oman’s strategically located naval facilities. This facility is close to the Hormuz Strait.
      • The Strait of Hormuz handles more than 30% of all oil exports.
    • Strategic agreement with France
      • India and France recently signed a strategic agreement that allows their naval bases to host each other’s warships across the Indian Ocean.
      • It provides the Indian navy with access to strategically important French ports, including one in Djibouti, which is home to China’s sole overseas military base.
    • Investments in Surrounding China in the north
      • India has made significant diplomatic investments in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia, all of which border China.
    • Information Fusion Centre in Gurgaon
      • Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR), based in Gurgaon and will share real-time maritime information with friendly nations.
      • All Coastal Surveillance Radar Systems are linked to providing the Indian Defense Establishment with a comprehensive real-time picture of the Chinese presence in the region.
    • Policy of Diamond Necklace
      • India has begun developing the ‘Necklace of Diamonds’ strategy.
      • This plan attempts to encircle China or, to put it another way, to garland China.
      • To counter China’s objectives, India is extending its naval bases and building relations with strategically located countries.

Other countries countering China

  • United States
    • The “Pivot to Asia” strategy of the Obama Administration is designed to engage China by consolidating and expanding diplomatic and economic relationships with existing regional partners, particularly in East Asia and Southeast Asia.
    • US engagement with ASEAN
      • This approach has emphasized multilateralism, as exemplified by increased US engagement with ASEAN and efforts for the formation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pan-Asian free trade deal.
    • Exercises
      • The US has also sought an expanded and more cooperative military presence in the Indian Ocean region, evidenced by the 2006 Cope India exercise and others like it.
    • Cooperation with allies
      • Strong US relations with its key regional allies, including Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, have been reinforced by strengthened cooperation with countries threatened by Chinese control, such as the
    • Australia
      • As a reaction to China’s growing influence, and as part of the United States’ proclaimed “Pivot to Asia” strategy, the Australian government approved the stationing of US troops and aircraft in the northern Australian city of Darwin in late 2011.
    • Japan
      • 90% of Japan’s imported oil flows to Japan through the sea lanes of the South China Sea, and any undue Chinese influence in the region is seen as a potential threat to Japanese economic security and trading interests.
      • Japan announced revised National Defence Program guidelines, which advocate enhanced surveillance and reconnaissance operations in the Ryukyu islands(friction points between the two countries), as well as increased support for submarine activities.
      • The Japanese and US governments issued a firm joint declaration announcing intentions for the maintenance of the strong US naval deterrent in the Taiwan Strait and the expansion of security ties with ASEAN, Australia, and India.


  • China is attempting to create a threat in the minds of Asian countries through the “String of Pearls Project” to emerge as the superpower in Asia and the entire world.
  • Building ports in collaboration and signing bilateral agreements with countries is usually to improve trade ties with the respective countries and open different trade routes for India.
  • It should be noted that many of the solutions are not instantaneous and may take time to fructify. To change the status quo, strong decision-making ability at the highest levels is required. The timely implementation of the planned strategic initiatives will be critical in establishing India as a strong leader in the Indian Ocean.

Mains model question

  • What do you understand by ‘The String of Pearls’? Briefly outline the steps taken by India to counter this.