Updated: Sep 15
Image Credits: The Geostrata
In the global geopolitical arena, every step is towards national interest more than mere mutual co-existence. While the world was glued to Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, India silently stitched the MIST project. The Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on the Coastal Regulation Zone of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) approved the MIST submarine cable system recently.
MIST stands for Malaysia/Myanmar-India-Singapore Transit which is a submarine optical fibre cable system which will be the 17th of such type to land in Mumbai and is expected to start operations in 2023. The project is executed by the global technology provider NEC Corp. The system covers a distance of 8100km connecting Mumbai to Singapore via Chennai. The communication cable will travel underwater to connect India with the South-East Asian nations of Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. The project envisages providing reliable, affordable, unhindered and secure telecommunication facilities to these Asian nations. The main trunk route is from Tuas(Singapore) to Mumbai(India).
The total cost of the project is pegged around $400M.
The project will provide a boost to connectivity and communication in the region with minimal climate impact on Mumbai. Optical Fiber is the backbone of digital infrastructure. Data transfer happens via light pulses travelling through long strands of thin fiber.
The 17 cables mentioned above include six upcoming projects to start operations in 2023 and 2025 in Mumbai. Two of them are Reliance Jio Infocomm‘s India Europe Xpress which will connect India to Italy via Saudi Arabia and Greece. Other projects include the SeaMeWe-6 project owned by a consortium of providers which will connect Singapore to France via India, Bangladesh and Maldives and the multi-stakeholder Africa2 cable connecting India with the United Kingdom via several African nations.
Is it just about Fiber Cable and Connectivity?
Before drawing any conclusions, we must take account of several Geopolitical and strategic perspectives.
We must pay attention to the location of the project MIST. The project is located in the ‘Chicken Neck’ of Chinese trade that is the Strait of Malacca . Why are we calling it Chicken Neck? The reason is the volume of Chinese trade passing through the Strait of Malacca; around 80% of all Chinese oil imports. The vital artery of trade for most of the large economies, the South China sea has grabbed a significant amount of attention recently. The South China sea contributes to $5.3T worth of trade out of which $1.2T accounts for the USA. The concentration of trade volume passing through the Strait of Malacca has raised concerns about its vulnerability as a strategic choke point. The Strait of Malacca also provides the shortest distance from the Indian ocean to South China sea and is the reason for such a heavy volume of ships passing through this strait. Even if China tries to divert its trade away from Malacca to Sunda or Lombok straits, the trade is estimated to suffer a monthly loss of around $280M from Sunda strait and around $515M from the Lombok strait. A loss which has the power to cripple the South-China Sea trade.
The project MIST starts from Tuas in Singapore which is clearly located in the heartland of the Strait of Malacca and then connects Malaysia which too sits on the hot seat of the strait. The project then goes on to connect Thailand, Myanmar all the way to India. With Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar aboard with their heavy investment in the project, India is trying to seal the inclination of these vital South-East Asian nations towards its own national security and making China realise its maritime vulnerability against India.
Image Credits: The Geostrata
Why is it a geopolitical setback for the Chinese?
The world knows that China supports the Junta ruled Myanmar and is openly supplying arms and other aids to the Military government. This is a serious concern to India as it cannot sit and watch its neighbour switch camps which could possibly object to Indian interests in the region in near future. The Indian army and the Myanmarese army have bilaterally carried out numerous military operations to eradicate the insurgency in the region. With the Myanmarese on the Chinese side, India struggles with dilemma if it should support the military government breaching the rules of a democracy to safeguard its own interests in the region or should it abide by the principles of democracy and watch Myanmar become its adversary. India has a history of crossing rivers with legs in two boats and is doing the same in Myanmar by staying politically neutral on the state of Myanmar but is still engaged in bilateral talks and projects with the military government to safeguard its own national interests.
To bypass the Strait of Malacca, the Chinese government reached out to Thailand to provide it with necessary capital and technological support to construct a proposed waterway named the Kra canal to bypass the Strait of Malacca for Chinese trade. If functional, the Kra canal will save up to 1200km of navigation and millions in trade. But the Thai government is interested more in Indian and Australian offers. If Thailand approves the plan of any of the Quad members. It will be a big blow for Beijing’s dream of a possible development of a maritime version of the ancient Silk route. Thailand, which was once the strongest Chinese ally in the region, has been dealing cautiously with the Chinese and has not only postponed the procurement of two Chinese submarines but also replaced the Chinese proposed plan to build a waterway to the Bay of Bengal with its own project. Now with Thailand with its crucial investment on board with India over the MIST, the Chinese are not in the bigger picture any time soon. This will restrict the Thais to engage with the Chinese with their money invested in the MIST.
BY DIGVIJAY SINGH