China’s ‘Look South Policy’ aims to dominate Bay of Bengal, isolate India in backyard
In the abundantly resource-rich Bay of Bengal region, a Great Game is afoot. China is assisting the littoral nations in the Bay of Bengal to improve their maritime capabilities in addition to constructing naval stations in the broader Indian Ocean Region to expand the reach of its navy.
Recently, it supported Bangladesh in the construction of a submarine base for its Chinese-made submarines.
Half of all trade in the globe goes through the sea lanes that connect China, Japan, Korea, and the Middle East with the Middle East and Africa, which are located on top of the Bay of Bengal.
The area is crucial for the US strategy of a “Free, open, and inclusive Indo-Pacific,” which is a cover for containing China’s ambitions.
Located between India on the east and Indonesia on the west, it is the largest bay in the world. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar are coastal nations. Major powers from the East and the West (China, Japan, India, the US, and even Russia) are drawn to the region because of its importance in trade, diplomacy, and security.
India has been enhancing the military strength of the littoral nations because it views the Bay of Bengal as its immediate region of influence. However, China has outspent India in terms of purchasing power.
Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister of Bangladesh, opened BNS Sheikh Hasina, the nation’s first submarine station, which is situated in Cox’s Bazaar.
Using Chinese assistance, the “state-of-the-art” submarine base was built in accordance with a deal signed in September 2019. Six submarines and eight naval vessels can berth in the submarine facility at once.
Bangladesh’s prime minister noted that because his nation has two submarines, the facility will not only help Bangladesh secure its maritime resources but also the “vessels traversing the Bay of Bengal.” As a result, a Chinese submarine may one day dock at the base.
“For India, the presence of Chinese-built submarines in the Bay of Bengal, in a way, makes it a very crowded water body as far as underwater activities are concerned. And it also legitimizes the Chinese presence in more ways than one. It complicates the underwater picture for India,” Commodore (retd) Uday C. Bhaskar, Director of the Society for Policy Studies, was quoted as saying by the EurAsian Times.
Bangladesh, previously East Pakistan, which was formerly a part of British India, separated from the union in 1947. After a brief fight between the military forces of Pakistan and India, it was liberated in 1971.
Due to their common past and connections, India and Bangladesh have always had cordial ties. However, Xi Jinping, the first Chinese president to visit Bangladesh, did so in 2016 and brought presents with him.
Bangladesh later bought two pre-owned Type-035G Ming-class submarines. These submarines, which cost US$203 million to buy and are now known as BNS Nabajatra and Joyjatra in the Bangladesh Navy, exhibit typical Ming-class characteristics.
It can use heavyweight torpedoes like the Yu-3 and Yu-4. The submarine is capable of carrying either 32 naval mines or 14 torpedoes. Chinese copies of Western-origin technology, the submarines’ integrated sonar and electronic warfare suites.
India, the Asian behemoth that surrounds Bangladesh on three sides and has a sizable strategic interest in the Bay of Bengal, is not significantly threatened by the two submarines in the Bangladesh Navy. However, Chinese officials were on board the two submarines to train and acquaint the Bangladeshi crew with the equipment.
Chinese employees will also be required for maintenance and operational assistance at the submarine base. Concern is raised by its proximity to India’s Eastern Naval Command, where a nuclear submarine is being built on Indian soil.
Therefore, in a way, China’s assistance to Bangladesh’s navy in the Bay of Bengal will serve as a front for them to gather intelligence to support Chinese submarine activities in the area.
Importance of Bay of Bengal
With its borders spanning from Africa to Indonesia, the Bay of Bengal plays a crucial role in the Indian Ocean region. The Strait of Malacca, which links the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea, and the Bay of Bengal are two of the world’s most vital strategic chokepoints. The Bay of Bengal is snuggled between India, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.
Both China and India are cognizant of the Strait of Malacca’s significance for their developing economies. As a result, both nations have increased their involvement with the coastal nations.
A fourth of the world’s population resides in the Bay of Bengal region, which has a combined GDP of USD 3 trillion. The industrialised countries’ offshore of labor-intensive activities has benefited the developing nations.
It’s also thought that the Bay of Bengal has large gas reserves. The largest in Asia-Pacific, according to some estimations, Bangladesh has reserves worth 200 trillion cubic feet. The fourth-largest proven natural gas reserves in Asia-Pacific are found in Myanmar. Petrol is exported to China and Thailand.
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