CPEC to circumvent the Straits of Malacca and South China Sea

*Map showing territorial claims in South China Sea. A high percentage of Chinese energy imports pass through this disputed region, rendering much of China’s energy imports vulnerable to conflict.

The Straits of Malacca provide China with its shortest maritime access to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. Approximately 80% pass of its Middle Eastern energy imports also pass through the Straits of Malacca. As the world’s biggest oil importer, energy security is a key concern for China. Current sea routes used to import Middle Eastern oil are frequently patrolled by the United States’ Navy.
In the event that China were to face hostile actions from a state or non-state actor, energy imports through the Straits of Malacca could be cut, which in turn would paralyse the Chinese economy in a scenario that is frequently referred to as the “Malacca Dilemma”. In addition vulnerabilities faced in the Straits of Malacca region, China is heavily dependent upon sea-routes that pass through the South China Sea, near the disputed Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands, which are currently a source of tension between China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the United States. The CPEC project will allow China to circumvent these contentious areas, and thereby decrease the possibility of confrontation between the United States and China.

In addition to potential weaknesses in regards to the United States’ Navy, the Indian Navy has recently increased maritime surveillance of the Straits of Malacca region from its base on Great Nicobar Island. India has expressed fears of a Chinese “String of Pearls” encircling it. Were conflict to erupt, India could potentially impede Chinese imports through the straits. Indian maritime surveillance in the Andaman Sea could possibly enhance Chinese interest in Pakistan’s Gwadar Port – the Kyaukpyu Port, which is currently being developed in Myanmar by the Chinese government as another alternate route around the Straits of Malacca, will likely be vulnerable to potential advances from the Indian Navy. The proposed Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor (BCIM) would also be vulnerable to Indian advances against China in the event of conflict, thereby potentially limiting the BCIM Corridor’s usefulness to China’s energy security, and thereby increasing Chinese interest in CPEC.

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