January 13, 2022 - 11:51 am

The Context Of Swing-Through

    The visit from Jan 4 to 9 by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi of a five-nation swing-through, that covered Eriteria, Kenya, the Comoros, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, all face a financial crisis and have debt issues to be addressed, has highlighted Beijing's relentless drive for influence over the Indian Ocean region. As for China, it has to meet a mounting challenge from India and the US in the IOR.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Eriteria gives China a foothold in the strategic Horn of Africa and the Red Sea. But to pursue its economic and strategic interests, China needs peace in this troubled region. In Kenya, Wang is likely to seek to ensure that huge Chinese loans do not become a prominent issue ahead of the Kenyan general elections in August 2022. China's growing ties with Comoros can be seen as an effort to mitigate India's footprint in the region. Moreover, Comoros is helping China's quest for diversifying its sources of fossil fuel imports and important fishing grounds that could bolster China's seafood cache. However, China's problem with Maldives is political. Since the pro-West Parliament Speaker Nasheed is threatening President Solih's power base, Solih is moving closer to China. Wang is expected to take steps to strengthen relations with Sri Lanka through new investments, especially in the Colombo Port City (CPC) built by a Chinese company.

China is a dialogue partner of the Indian Ocean Rim Association, along with Russia, the US and several European countries. Since 2008, an Indian Ocean Navies Symposium brings together 24 countries in the region, in which, too, China, which is not an Indian Ocean country, is one among several observers. It is significant that Beijing, which has pumped in so many money into many of these countries, but by virtue of its geography, is not a full member in any of the region's groupings, now believes there should be another forum representing the region. Wang's proposal, which bears a curious resemblance to the Security and Growth for All in the region (SAGAR) doctrine articulated by Prime Minister Modi in his first term, during a visit to Mauritius in 2015, is a sign that the India-China rivalry in the maritime sphere is set to intensify.

The tour marks the custom that the Chinese Foreign Minister's first overseas trip of the new year is always to Africa, a tradition that is now in its 32nd year. It also comes less than 5 weeks after Wang's last trip to the continent, when he led the forum on China-Africa Cooperation conference in Senegal and also make a quick stop in Ethiopia. China wants to set its foothold in the region firmly by maintaining cordial relationship among aforesaid five nations and attempting to corner India and the US.  India is closely monitoring the situation and keeping its cards folded until the right time comes to retort China.