The China Maldives Friendship Bridge, which is being built near the city of Male. This shot was taken on February 8. Photo: AFP
The China Maldives Friendship Bridge, which is being built near the city of Male. Photo: AFP

China has plans to establish a network of naval and air bases in the Indian Ocean, according to an article by David Brewster posted on the website of the Lowy Institute, the Australian think-tank, on May 15.

Brewster, who is with the National Security College at the Australian National University in Canberra, argues that Beijing’s aim is to support China’s growing strategic imperatives in the region.

In July 2017, China opened its first overseas naval base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, and Beijing is reportedly engaged in negotiations with Islamabad to establish another base at or near Gwadar, a port city of the coast of Pakistan.

But it would not be enough for China to have capabilities in the north-west of the Indian Ocean, Brewster argues. China would also likely see the need to develop a network of military facilities of various types in the center as well as the east of the Indian Ocean as well.

“These bases will be required if China wants to be able to protect the entire length of its east-west sea lines across the Indian Ocean. Just as importantly, Beijing has growing political imperatives to protect a large number of Chinese nationals and assets across the region,” according to Brewster.

China’s entry into the Indian Ocean has caused concern especially in India, which is negotiating an agreement with the Seychelles, an island republic in the center of the Indian Ocean, to establish a presence there for the Indian Navy.

India, Japan and the United States have regularly conducted joint naval exercises in the Indian Ocean, and such cooperation is expected to increase as China is playing an increasingly assertive role in the maritime region.

The Maldives, traditionally an Indian ally, is moving closer to China and Beijing may be interested in taking over the old British air base on Gan in the south of that archipelago.

That would be a challenge not only to India but also the US, which maintains one of its most important overseas military bases on Diego Garcia in the middle of the Indian Ocean.