China’s backing for Sri Lanka

As Sri Lanka’s assault on the Tamil Tigers continues, Kotare has an interesting observation on an angle of the conflict that I’d missed:

While the US is entangled in an escalating war in Afghanistan, China is quietly strengthening its strategic position in the Indian Ocean. One sign of this is the way Beijing is helping the Sri Lankan government crush the Tamil Tigers while building a port at Hambantota, on Sri Lanka’s south coast.

China’s Achilles heel is its reliance on imported oil and minerals from the Middle East and Africa, and the need to ship those resources across the Indian Ocean and through the Straits of Melaka and the South China Sea. This poses a security problem for Beijing. If China and the US went to war, say over Taiwan, the US Navy could stop the flow of oil and minerals and do real damage to the Chinese economy and war machine. Similarly, India, which has a large navy, could interdict China’s ships in the Indian Ocean.

 To safeguard its shipping, China needs to be capable of projecting power into the Indian Ocean, the Middle East and Africa. From ports and airfields like Hambantota, sited along the Eurasian seaways like a ‘string of pearls’, Chinese forces could gather intelligence, protect its shipping and attack hostile navies.