While the trends in the East China Sea have been concerning, Japan and China have been able to avoid a major incident in the area over the last five years. Yet, with Chinese capabilities improving and the margin of the Japan-U.S. alliance’s supremacy narrowing, the likelihood of an incident is growing.
Indian president Ram Nath Kovind’s visit to Madagascar in March was a sign of the growing importance of strategic islands in the Indian Ocean region. The visit—the first ever by an Indian head of state—underlines both Madagascar’s strategic location in the southwest Indian Ocean and Delhi’s historical disregard toward island nations, a misstep that the foreign office has begun correcting only recently.
On March 6, Australia and Timor-Leste signed a landmark treaty delimiting their maritime boundaries in the Timor Sea. Much of the media has presented the agreement as resolving the long-running disputes between Australia and Timor-Leste over maritime boundaries and resources. This is inaccurate, largely because the most difficult issue—the development of Greater Sunrise—remains ongoing.
China’s leaders have mapped out an ambitious plan, the Maritime Silk Road Initiative, to establish three “blue economic passages” that will connect Beijing with economic hubs around the world. It is the maritime dimension of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, which could include $1–4 trillion in new roads, railways, ports, and other infrastructure.
Hambantota port was intended to transform a small fishing town into a major shipping hub. In pursuit of that dream, Sri Lanka relied on Chinese financing. But Sri Lanka could not repay those loans, and in 2017, it agreed to give China a controlling equity stake in the port and a 99-year lease for operating it.
Kyaukpyu is of considerable strategic and economic value for China as it seeks to speed development of Yunnan and its other inland provinces. That value is centered on the development of a deep-water port and the construction of accompanying road and rail links to supplement the pipelines already running to Kunming.