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String of Pearls • Meaning • Policy Implications

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General Meaning

String of Pearls  is a strategic move that involves establishing a series of nodes of military and economic power throughout a region. Each node is a “pearl”, enhancing the overall power of the parent nation. This strategic relation moves in an excellent way to enfold a greater area of territory, thereby gaining more influence on the global stage, but it often evokes comments from other nations, who may be concerned that the strategy is the first step in a serious takeover or military threat.

World View

The “String of Pearls” describes the manifestation of China’s rising geopolitical influence through efforts to increase access to ports and airfields, develop special diplomatic relationships, and modernize military forces that extend from the South China Sea through the Strait of Malacca, across the Indian Ocean, and on to the Persian Gulf. (By: Christopher Pehrson)

Chinese context of String of Pearls

The String of Pearls refers to the Chinese sea lines of communication which extend from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan. The sea lines run through several major choke points such as the Strait of Mandeb, the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz and the Lombok Strait, as well as other strategic maritime centers in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Somalia. The term was used in an internal United States Department of Defense report titled “Energy Futures in Asia”.

Chinese String of pearls
Chinese String of pearls

Several things included in Chinese String of Pearls

  • The first is increased access to airfields and ports. This may be accomplished by building new facilities or through establishing cordial relations with other nations to ensure access to their ports.
  • In some cases, the strategy involves heavily subsidizing construction of new port and airfield facilities in other countries, with the understanding that these facilities will be made readily available as needed. e.g.
    • Beijing(Peking) agreed to lend Sri Lanka more than $800m for the second phase of development at Hambantota port on the island’s south coast
    • Gwadar port, which had a total investment of $248m, received $198m in funding from China.
    • Launched on 15 January 2008, the Hambantota Port is being constructed by the Chinese companies China Harbour Engineering Company and Sinohydro Corporation.The total cost of the first phase of the project is estimated at $360 million, excluding $76.5 million for the bunker terminal.85% of the funding is provided by the Chinese Government and the remaining 15% by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority.
  • Developing better diplomatic relations is also a crucial step in this strategy. Partly, this is undertaken to ensure that shipping lanes and airspace remain free and clear. e.g.
    • East Asia Summit etc.
  • Since the strategy may rely on linking a series of pearls, it is important to ensure that each pearl is also safe, and that it will not be threatened by neighbouring nations.
  • Modernizing military forces is another component. e.g.
    • China’s string of pearls policy includes improvements to the military to indicate that China is ready to meet potential threats. The modernized military also supports a country’s rise as a global power, and as a nation which commands respect.

Indian view of Chinese String of Pearls

  • For nations such as India which are slowly being encircled in a string of said pearls, the string of pearls strategy can be upsetting. A country implementing such a strategy is feared may also slowly take over shipping lanes, which is an issue of concern to nations which are not closely allied with it. China, for example, has growing influence on shipping lanes throughout the Indian Ocean, leading some countries to express unease about the safety of oil and supply shipments in the region.

Indian response to Chinese String of Pearls

  • While India and China remain strategic rivals, India’s “Look East policy” has included significant rapprochement with China.Since 1993, India began holding high-level talks with Chinese leaders and established Confidence-building measures.
  • In 2006, China and India opened the Nathu La Pass for cross-border trade for the first time since the 1962 war.
  • Also, on November 21, 2006 Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Chinese President Hu Jintao issued a 10-point joint declaration to improve ties and resolve long-standing conflicts.Trade between China and India increases by 50% each year, and reached the $60 billion target set by both Indian and Chinese governments and industrial leaders.
  • India has developed multilateral organisations such as the Mekong-Ganga-Cooperation and BIMSTEC, forging extensive cooperation on environmental, economic development, security and strategic affairs, permitting the growth of influence beyond South Asia and without the tense and obstructive presence of Pakistan and China that has stalled its efforts in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. India became a sectoral dialogue partner with ASEAN in 1992, a full dialogue partner in 1995, a member of the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum in 1996, and a summit level partner (on par with China, Japan and Korea) in 2002. The first India-ASEAN Business Summit was held in New Delhi in 2002. India also acceded to ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia in 2003.
  • In many cases, India’s membership to these forums has been a result of attempts by the region to balance China’s growing influence in the area. Notably, Japan brought India into ASEAN+6 to dilute the ASEAN+3 process, where China is dominant, while Singapore and Indonesia played a significant role in bringing India into the East Asia Summit. The United States and Japan have also lobbied for India’s membership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Numerous infrastructure projects also serve to tie India closer to East Asia. India is participating in the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific initiatives for an Asian Highway Network and the Trans-Asian Railway Network. Discussions are also proceeding on reopening the World War II-era Stilwell Road linking India’s Assam state with China’s Yunnan province through Myanmar.


  • Whether China’s ‘strings of pearls’ strategy represents a new paradigm in China’s play for long-term military domination or is one simply born out of pure commercial necessity for energy remains to be seen.
  • Looking forward, China will most likely continue on its present path of acquiring ‘pearls’, the only real questions would be when and where the next one would be, and how it would overall impact both on its national competitors and markets in the 21st century.
  • India’s Trade & Commerce with South and East Asian nations accounts for almost 45% of India’s foreign trade. Although its efforts have met with considerable success, India trails China in the volume of trade and economic ties it enjoys with the nations of the region. So, more engagement in the South-Asian and South-East-Asian region is the only way forward.

Evaluate yourself. ANSWER ME!!!

Q 1: What is the string of pearls strategy? Describe briefly how it is viewed by the world?
Q 2: Explain the Chinese string of pearls strategy?  How this strategy is viewed in India & its possible policy implications?



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