Hu Zhiyong - China is stringing up a chain of pearls in the Indian Ocean - this expression has made many headlines in Indian newspapers. India, if we are to believe the forecasts of alarmist scholars, is going to wear a heavy and suffocating string of pearls.

It is true that China is enlarging its investment in some countries around the Indian Ocean, especially in terms of seaports.

Besides Pakistan’s Gwadar which serves as the terminal of the newly proposed China-Pakistan economic corridor, Chinese investments can also be found in Sri Lanka’s Colombo and Hambantota, Myanmar’s Sittwe and Bangladesh’s Chittagong.

Even in Iran, according to The Indian Express, China is planning to invest 60 million euros ($79.23 million) to revamp the Chabahar Port on the border of Iran and Pakistan, which would “muscle out” India.

However, it is not true that China’s involvement in the Indian Ocean bears ulterior motives under an ostensibly commercial cover.

These ports where China sets foot geographically might resemble a “string of pearls” that encircles India, but a strategy named after this fact is imaginary.

China has shown no signs that it plans to dominate the Indian Ocean, and China has no intention to build naval bases beyond its territory. Besides, the ports that China is investing in do not have the capability of forming a “military chain.”

Take Gwadar as an example. There is no doubt that as a deepwater port lying at the key junction of Africa, South Asia and the Middle East, it has prominent strategic significance. China extending its transportation network to Gwadar is a necessary action to guarantee the safety of its sea lanes and maintain the balance of power and stability in the Indian Ocean.

But, due in large part to poor infrastructure construction in the port, the Chinese navy has never regarded Gwadar as a strategic asset. Like the other ports, it would be a flawed “pearl” if aimed for military use.

China’s influence in the Indian Ocean should be observed from a horizontal perspective. China is going global, as the other major powers are doing. Thus it is a well-reasoned move for China to deepen its relationship with countries surrounding the Indian Ocean.

India’s influence over the same maritime space is not diminished due to China’s involvement. As a major sea power, India has been pursuing the modernization of its navy for decades.

And by depending on a long-term cooperation with its smaller neighboring countries, especially on military terms, India will preserve its strategic and military advantages in the area.

India and other countries which are wary of China’s expanding influence should learn that China is consistent in its South Asia policy.

Cooperation has always been China’s purpose in South Asia, and this principle has successfully been applied to its relationships with both India and the rest of the region.

China’s existence in the Indian Ocean is a productive force that brings economic prosperity and strategic security. “Encircling India” by “a string of pearls” is an illusion fueled by paranoia.

It is understandable that an enlarging power like China is causing concerns and unease. China is destined to become a major naval power, but this does not translate to intentions of aggression or warfare.  China is dedicated to protecting its own legitimate economic interests in the Indian Ocean, not a zero-sum game.  In a complicated and multipolar international order, China, as well as the US and India, will coexist under checks and balances.

China and India are not supposed to fight for dominance in the Indian Ocean.  As both countries are building up their blue-water navies, it is vital that they properly use their advantages and jointly safeguard the sea lanes in the Indian Ocean.

But conflicts and confrontations always lie dormant.  Both sides need further cooperation and communication so that mutual trust can be boosted.

Many fields, such as anti-piracy, anti-terrorism and maritime disaster relief, leave ample room for both countries to come together.  –Global Times