[Editorial Analysis] Raja Mandala: Battle for islands

Mains Paper 3: International Relations

Prelims level: Raja Mandala

Mains level: India and its neighborhood- relations. Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

Context

• Simultaneous developments last week in different corners of the Indo-Pacific — from the Maldives to Papua New Guinea renewed geopolitical importance of the island states.

• China’s push for greater influence in the Indo-Pacific and the belated resistance from rival powers — including India, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United States.

• Islands helped the replenishment of supplies, positioning of troops and ammunition as well as for the host ship to do repair and maintenance.

• Island dominance was the key to securing the sea lines of communication.

• The Anglo-American maritime dominance over the last two centuries helped limit the contestation for the islands.

Rising of China

• Today, the rise of China has pitchforked the island states back to the centre stage of major power politics.

• For both Delhi and Male, the PM’s visit was about signalling India’s enduring importance for the Maldives.

• Under Solih’s predecessor, Abdulla Yameen, India’s relations with the Maldives rapidly deteriorated even as China’s influence began to rise.

• The intersection of Sino-Indian rivalry with domestic politics has also come to the fore in neighbouring Sri Lanka.

• The Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena dismissed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and installed the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa as the head of government.

• Even before the rest of the world could absorb the meaning of Sirisena’s political coup, the Chinese ambassador in Colombo showed up at Rajapaksa’s office to congratulate him and convey the best wishes of President Xi.

• If China is widely seen as the loser — at least for the moment — from the elections in the Maldives, it was seen as a winner in Rajapaksa’s return to power.

• China won to build the Colombo port city and the construction of a new port at Hambantota in the southern part of the island.

• Looking further east, last week saw the island state of Papua New Guinea host the annual summit of the forum for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

Way forward

• As in the Maldives and Sri Lanka, the last few years have seen a spectacular rise in Chinese commercial and political presence in Papua New Guinea.

• Australia and the US announced that they will fund the development of the port facilities in the Manus Island to the north-east of the main island.

• Earlier this year, Canberra nudged Beijing out of a deal to build an under-sea internet cable between Papua, Australia and the Solomon Islands.

• This week, Australia joined the US, Japan and New Zealand in unveiling a project to provide electricity to 70 per cent of the Papua New Guinea population by 2030.

• Like Delhi in the Indian Ocean, Canberra and Wellington had underestimated the scale and speed of China’s power projection into their South Pacific neighbourhood.

• US which failed to react in time to China’s push to gain control of the small rocks and islands of the South China Sea at the beginning of this decade.

• The unfolding contestation for influence in the island states of the Indo-Pacific has just begun.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) The category ‘Right to freedom’ in Fundamental Rights of our Constitution consists of

1. Right to form associations/union

2. Right to reside and settle in any part of India

3. Right to manage religious affairs

4. Right to life and liberty

Choose appropriate code:

a) 1, 3 and 4

b) 1 and 2 only

c) 1, 2 and 4 only

d) 2, 3 and 4 only

Correct Answer: B

Mains Questions:

Q.1) How did the poorest member of the forum venture to host the summit that brings leaders from 20-odd countries from America to China, Malaysia to Japan and Canada to Chile?

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