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The IUP Journal of International Relations :
Geopolitics of the 21st Century and Indian Ocean – Imperatives for India
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The Indian Ocean Rim (IOR) has been a zone of human interactions. For the past seven and a half millennia, this Ocean has been a convergence point of most Asian countries since it presented itself as a vital transit route among the countries of Asia and the Pacific, Africa, and Europe. It is only in the recent human history (between 1600 and 1800 CE) that the European role in the Indian Ocean became dominant. However, during the last century and half, other ocean rims of the likes of the Atlantic and the Pacific rose in importance due to the growing economic clout of countries like the USA, Russia, Japan and China. However, in the 21st century, the world trade and geopolitical focus is once again on the IOR. India has always and still occupies a central and strategic location in the IOR, and the country’s national and economic interests are inseparably linked to the Indian Ocean. However, growing Chinese presence in the IOR is a fast emerging phenomenon that the modern Indian State has been concerned about, given that the post-colonial Indian State has always viewed the Chinese State with suspicion. The paper brings to light the (i) imperativeness of not trying to look at China as a potential aggressor but as a potential and major ally and an equal trading partner to India and (ii) the need to connect economically and culturally with all of India’s neighbors so that the Indian State may hedge against ceding strategic ground along the 21st century’s emerging trade routes in the IOR.

 
 
 

Walter Raleigh, the famous British explorer, poet and historian had once said, ‘For whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself’.1 Historical evidence illustrates that almost all of the notable empires that the world has ever seen have had solid trading roots. History is awash with instances of empires that had dominated the geopolitical and economic environment of the world in their times, foundations of which lay in strong domination of trade routes, especially across the ocean. The British, for instance, took control of the seas (especially of the Indian Ocean) and with it got rewarded with the control of world shipping trade.

As the planet Earth becomes more and more developed, and global; proximity to raw materials and to the markets has emerged as a key factor that is shaping the global economy and the trade patterns and trade routes. A trade route is essentially a directional path used by vehicles or ships on land or sea, between an origin group of countries and a destination group of countries.2 While trade routes are critical to merchants, they have also been used by other kinds of travelers, such as migrants, invaders, and pilgrims. Merchants, migrants and missionaries have spread new religions, languages and ideas as they moved along these routes.3

Some of the greatest seaborne trade routes that have come into existence include: from Australia, Southern Africa and North America to Europe and the Far East (coal); from North and South America to Asia, Africa and the Far East (grain); from South America and Australia to Europe and the Far East (iron ore); from the Middle East, West Africa, South America and the Caribbean to Europe, North America and Asia (oil), and from China, Japan and Southeast Asia to the consumer markets of the western world (containerized goods). Global trade routes have enabled wide accessibility to an enormous variety of resources, and thus aided the widespread sharing of earth‘s resources.

Figure 1 illustrates the global network of shipping routes, wherein world’s busiest shipping routes are concentrated in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Both water bodies form the northern flanks of the Indian Ocean, which covers 68,536,000 square kilometers, and is about a fifth of the world’s ocean surface. The Republic of India occupies a central and strategic location in the Indian Ocean region also popularly referred to as the ‘Indian Ocean Rim’ (or IOR in short). The IOR broadly includes the countries scattered across and around the Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal, Red Sea and the Straits of Malacca.4

 
 
 

International Relations Journal, Indian Ocean Rim (IOR), Ancient Trade , Geopolitics in the IOR , Sino-Indian Relations.