The extension of India’s strategic posture into the Indian Ocean littoral creates opportunities and challenges associated with its increasing contact and influence across a broader area. As described above, China appears to be pursuing a policy of encirclement of India, relying upon its military advantage along the Sino–Indian border and its ‘all-weather friendship’ with Pakistan. To the south, China attempts to complete the circle by sea. Its so-called ‘string of pearls’ strategy is a three-pronged approach to check US naval power in the Indian Ocean and to achieve strategic maritime advantage over India. It is seen as involving the construction of a series of naval bases/berthing points along its sea lanes to the Middle East, the improvement of its diplomacy throughout the Indian Ocean area, and the rapid attempt to build a ‘blue-water’ navy to project power effectively. In recent years China has notably increased its presence in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. Chinese and Indian analysts continue to cite Mahan’s supposed geopolitical comment, ‘Whoever controls the Indian Ocean, controls Asia. The Indian Ocean is the gateway to the world’s seven seas. The destiny of the world in the 21st century will be determined by the Indian Ocean’. The Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is becoming an important front in China’s naval strategy, and India’s presence at the centre creates a clear challenge with which China must deal.
India also understands the central importance of the IOR to its own strategic interests, with a Grand Strategy and strategy leanings that reflect Mahanian style tenets of seapower and geopolitics. India’s response has been to work at developing its diplomacy throughout the area, building and modernizing its military capacity, and developing its ability to project power more effectively. India’s self-proclaimed strategic security perimeter runs from the choke points of the Strait of Hormuz to the Strait of Malacca, and from the east coast of Africa to the west coast of Australia.