Silk Roads and Strings of Pearls: The Strategic Geography of China’s New Pathways in the Indian Ocean
Control over access to the Indian Ocean is often seen through a highly securitised lens. Strategic actors have long sought to use geographical constraints to maintain the region as a relatively enclosed strategic space. It has only a few narrow maritime entrance points and the littoral is not well connected to the interior of the Eurasian continent. These factors have contributed to the historical domination of the Indian Ocean by a succession of extra-regional maritime powers and the virtual exclusion of Eurasian land powers such as China and Russia. This paper considers how the physical geography of the Indian Ocean has contributed to its control by some powers and the exclusion of others. It then discusses China’s Maritime Silk Route/One Belt One Road initiative, which includes growing interests in Indian Ocean ports and plans to build new overland pathways to connect China with the Indian Ocean. The paper concludes that while China’s growing maritime interests in Indian Ocean are strategically important, it is the new overland routes connecting the Eurasian hinterland with the ocean that have the potential to change the entire geostrategic character of the region. This article appeared as David Brewster, "Silk Roads and Strings of Pearls: The Strategic Geography of China’s New Pathways in the Indian Ocean," Geopolitics, Vol. 22, No. 2 (April 2017), pp. 269-291.