China’s attempt to expand its footprint in the Indian Ocean by a regional cooperation forum virtual meeting at Kunming on November 21st is becoming more interesting as Beijing bypasses foreign ministries of key littoral countries while sending invitations.
Although Chinese propaganda media claimed that China International Development Cooperation Agency was organizing the meeting and that it wanted to collaborate with India for the success of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the facts from different capitals indicate that officials of Sinophile experts, Sinophile specialists and other private individuals attended the event.
The Chinese organizers sent the invitation to Maldives via the foreign ministry. However, the foreign ministries from Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and Mauritius were not included in the program. On November 15, 2022 the Maldives government decided not to participate in this forum via the Chinese embassy. Mohammed Waheed, a pro China former president of Maldives, attended the virtual meeting. He had thrown out Indian GMR during an airport operations contract.
The client state Myanmar attended the virtual meeting and was represented by U Ko Ko Hliang, Minister for International Cooperation. Assistant Professor and Head of Dhaka University’s Oceanography Department, Dr K M Azam Chowdhury represented Bangladesh. At the official level, there was representation from Pakistan, a client state.
Although Australia was not represented, Kevin Rudd, former prime minister of Australia, attended the meeting as head of a think-tank that also has an India section. He is known as a Sinophile and Australia was forced to withdraw from the Malabar 2008 naval exercises. This occurred after China had demarched India, Australia, Japan, Singapore, USA, Australia and Japan for the Malabar 2007 naval exercise. Australia was made to stop being a member of QUAD during his tenure, an idea that was floated by Shinzo Abe, the Japanese PM at the time.
The Chinese media tried to portray the Kunming meeting in China as a major Indian Ocean Region intervention and as a rebuff of India. However, diplomatic evidence has shown that it was a minor affair at which a junior minister of Indian additional secretary addressed the group through a prerecorded video. This meeting revealed more about President Xi Jinping’s ambitions in India Ocean through South Asia’s client states and IOR, which are already struggling under Chinese debt. It also showed China’s military capabilities to challenge the QUAD in Indo-Pacific.