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Gwadar in Chinese hands

The port of Gwadar on Pakistan’s Makran coast. China’s acquisition of the strategic port in Pakistan is the latest addition to its drive to secure energy and maritime routes and gives it a potential naval base in the Arabian Sea, unsettling India. Photo: Behram Baloch/AFP  (Behram Baloch/AFP )Premium
The port of Gwadar on Pakistan’s Makran coast. China’s acquisition of the strategic port in Pakistan is the latest addition to its drive to secure energy and maritime routes and gives it a potential naval base in the Arabian Sea, unsettling India. Photo: Behram Baloch/AFP
(Behram Baloch/AFP )

For India, the port of Gwadar on Pakistan’s Makran coast ending up in Chinese hands can only be described as unhappy

It was only a matter of time before the port of Gwadar on Pakistan’s Makran coast ended up in Chinese hands.

The transfer of the port from the Port Authority of Singapore to China Overseas Port Holding Co. Ltd on Monday was a mere formality. Islamabad’s intention to do so was clear right from the time the project was started in 2002.

While the construction of the port and its infrastructure was largely funded by China, the asset was not handed over to Beijing. This was largely due to American sensitivities. Gwadar has a strategic location. It is virtually within shooting distance of the Strait of Hormuz and is located next door to Iran. Anyone holding the port also has access to the Arabian Sea. It is not surprising that India is concerned at the prospect of Chinese control of this port.

For China, control of the port is useful. For one, it gives China access to key energy markets in the Middle East. A pipeline from the Makran coast to energy hungry Chinese cities may appear a dream at the moment but is not unfeasible. For another, at the moment China has to transport the bulk of its energy resources from the Middle East through the Indian Ocean via the Strait of Malacca, a choke point if there ever was one.

Strategically, it makes much sense for China to secure an alternative route for this purpose. In addition, once this route is developed, it will also enable China to link it up with its gas and crude oil supplies from Central Asia.

It will, of course, allow Pakistan to dream of becoming an energy hub. This scenario can no longer be dismissed as a fantasy of armchair strategists.

For India, this development can only be described as unhappy.

But apart from a minister expressing concern or some sundry strategic analyst issuing pro forma warnings about strategic encirclement in the Indian Ocean littoral, an insular New Delhi doesn’t appear to care who does what at its periphery.

Geostrategic confinement is not something that can be undone in a year or even in a decade. The price India will pay for this inertia will only be apparent later.

Has the last nail in India’s strategic encirclement been hammered in at Gwadar? Tell us at views@livemint.com

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