Indian Ocean Region

Indian Ocean Region

This article deals with the Indian Ocean Region.’ This is part of our series on ‘International Relations’ which is an important pillar of the GS-2 syllabus. For more articles, you can click here.

What is Indian Ocean Region (IOR)?

  • Region containing and surrounding the Indian Ocean is known as Indian Ocean Region .
  • Indian Ocean Region    has  51  coastal and landlocked states  . Hence , it is a vast region.

Reasons behind increased importance of Indian Ocean

  • The Indian Ocean has become the lifeline of world trade (& has been so since time immemorial). The Indian Ocean is important for commerce as
    • 2/3rd of world oil shipments passes through the Indian Ocean.
    • 1/3rd of bulk cargo passes through the Indian Ocean.
    • It hosts nearly 40% of the world’s population.
  • The Indian  Ocean has the world’s most important chokepoints,  notably the Straits of  Hormuz, Malacca and  Bab el  Mandeb. As these chokepoints are important for global trade, a number of extra-regional states maintain a naval presence in the Indian  Ocean. Eg
    • US: 5th  Fleet in Bahrain & uses island of Diego Garcia as an air-naval base
    • France: Naval bases in  Djibouti,  Reunion Island and Abu Dhabi.
  • Growing Economies: The economies of many Indian Ocean countries are growing rapidly and are attracting huge investments such as India, Malaysia, and Tanzania.
  • IOR is rich in natural resources containing
    • The world’s 40% oil exploration
    • Nearly 15% of the total fishing of the world.
    • Mineral and natural resources like iron, copper, zinc, manganese, gold and silver.
  • Presently, China’s aggressive soft power diplomacy and Maritime Silk Road (MSR) Policy has been the most important element in shaping the  Indian  Ocean strategic environment. To counter China, the US and other nation are trying to counterbalance China and that is why they are taking so many initiatives in this region.
  • Security issues: This region is home to many threats like piracy, illegal and unregulated migration, and the presence of extremist and groups for example in Somalia, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.

Changed attitude of India towards  Indian Ocean

  • IOR is the centre stage of 21st-century politics  & India stands geographically right in the middle. South Africa, Iran, Indonesia & Australia are also the part of Indian ocean RIM family but none has centrality & attraction like that of India.
  • India is positioning itself as the “net security provider” in the broader Indian Ocean region.
  • Due to its strategic location and capabilities, India can play a pivotal role in this region, especially during disasters and crises. Till now, it has played a positive role and at the time of need has readily helped smaller countries of the region such as Maldives (Operation NEER), Srilanka, and Bangladesh etc.

Importance of IOR for India

Geostrategic Importance

  • India is situated right in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
  • It is important to secure Indian Ocean Region in order to protect Indian ships from piracy, stop human trafficking and drug smuggling.
  • 90% of Indian trade passes through it. Hence, it is important to protect our Sea Lines of Commerce.
  • Energy Security: Most of our oil supplies come from Indian Ocean Rim countries.

Protection of assets and islands

  • Its security is important to protect Indian assets and islands situated in the Indian Ocean
    1. Islands: Andaman & Nicobar and Lakshadweep
    2. Assets: Like Bombay High

Economic Importance

It is a source of resources like

  • fishing and aquaculture
  • Deep-sea mineral exploration
  • Petroleum reserves like Bombay High

Cultural Importance

  • India has cultural relations with IOR countries dating back centuries.
  • India has been the centre stage of the Indian Ocean trade corroborated by texts like Periplus Maris Erythraei, Jataka Stories, Sangam Poetry etc.


  • Large Indian diaspora is living in Indian Ocean Rim Countries and Small Island Nations like Mauritius, Maldives, South Africa etc.

Other points

  • Monsoon Mechanism: The Indian Ocean plays an important role in keeping the Monsoon mechanism in favour of India.

Chinese threat & String of Pearls

China’s Malacca Dilemma

  • 360 ships /day pass through the Strait of Malacca.
  • If there is any blockade by a human or natural disaster, it will cause problems to China because China’s 80 % of oil & gas imports & almost 60% exports pass through this region.
  • Singapore is located right on the Malacca Strait. Singapore hosts a huge US naval base.
  • Andaman & Nicobar Islands are situated very near to Malacca and they can be used to choke the Straits.
  • To counter Malacca Dilemma, China has opted to go for an ambitious String of Pearls strategy.
Indian Ocean Region

String of Pearls

  • It is the theory that China is trying to increase its naval presence in the Indian Ocean and counter India by surrounding it.
  • It is developing a string of ports around India for this purpose.
Kyaukpyu  Myanmar
Chittagong Bangladesh
Hambantota Srilanka
Marao Atoll Maldives
Gwadar Pakistan
Djibouti First Chinese Overseas Military Base (overlooks Bab el Mandeb)
String of Pearls

Side Topic: Kra Canal 

  • Aim: To address Malacca Dilemma.
  • It is a 100-km canal cutting Thailand into two parts.  Kra Canal will link the South China Sea to the Andaman Sea bypassing the Malacca Strait.
  • It has the added advantage of saving time.
  • Experts believe that Kra Canal could benefit India and other economies by taking pressure off the overcrowded Malacca Straits.
Kra Canal

Indian steps  wrt IOR

To counter String of Pearls, India is also making ports 

Andaman & Nicobar Islands It can act as an Iron choke to Malacca
1. Malacca strait is overlooked by A&N islands.
2. India has established an air naval station here called Baaz.
Chabahar Port India is developing Chabahar port in Iran.
Duqm port India has signed an agreement with Oman to get military and logistics support to Duqm Port.
Seychelles India has given a proposal to lease the Assumption Islands from Seychelles.
Myanmar India is investing in Sittwe port as part of its Kaladan Multimodal project.
Mauritius India has developed infrastructure on Agalega Island in Mauritius.
Srilanka India is developing Kakesuthai & Trincomalee port.
France India and France signed the “reciprocal logistics support” agreement as part of which warships of both nations would have access to each other’s naval bases. 

Making Alliances

Apart from that, India is trying to contain China  through the following ways

  • Making an alliance with Vietnam ( Vietnam too had issues with China in the South China sea).
  • Malabar practice with US & Japan.
  • Joined the Quad of USA, Japan, Australia and India.

Military Modernisation  

  • Agni, Sukhoi, Nuclear submarines, Aircraft Carrier-Vikramaditya are not meant for Pakistan but to fight against a powerful nation like China.

Iron Curtain Policy  to counter Chinese String of pearls

  • It is the term Given by naval analyst Zang Ming according to which Andaman & Nicobar Islands can be used as a metal chain to block Chinese access to the Strait of Malacca.
  • Japan is also helping India to develop Andaman and Nicobar.

Project Mausam

  • It was launched in June 2014.
  • It is a Ministry of Culture project.
  • Aim :
    1. The project tries to see how the monsoon winds helped maritime trade historically between  Indian Ocean-connected countries.
    2. How winds influenced local economies, scientific quests, modern statecraft, religion, politics and cultural identity.

Cotton Route

  • Cotton Routehas been started to strengthen economic ties between countries in the Indian Ocean rim.

Spice Route

  • Spice Route has been started for the revival of old links between 31 countries in Asia and Europe with India, particularly spice-rich Kerala.

SAGAR Initiative

  • Announced by the PM of India, the Sagar initiative aims at Security and Growth for All in the Region.

Challenges to India’s role as a net security provider in IOR

  • The capacity of the Indian defence industry to supply naval and military equipment to India and its allies.
  • More focus on territorial boundaries: Due to its pending territorial disputes with China and Pakistan.
  • China challenges India’s status in the Indian Ocean through its BRI and String of pearls.
  • Opposition from other countries. Eg: the Seychelles parliament in the Assumption Island project.

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