Q&A With Robert Kaplan on Geopolitics in the Indian Ocean

Trade and Security on the High Seas

Evan Walczak: What impact will the global financial downturn have on Indian Ocean relations?

A: The global financial meltdown will slow down the process that I write about in the article. Projects such as pipelines from Indian Ocean ports and canals or land bridges connecting the Bay of Bengal with the South China Sea require investment capital. And there will be less of that going around. Also, the deleterious effect of the crisis on the Pakistani and other economies will increase instability, making pipeline security even more problematic than it already is. It is important to note that I am writing in the article about long-term megatrends that I expect to play out over the course of decades, not years.

Chandrasekar Sellamuthu: How will the growing dominance of China impact India, and how should India respond without affecting its bilateral relationship with China? What policies should India follow in order to develop economic cooperation along the Indian Ocean rim?

A: The growing dominance of China will lead the citizens of India -- particularly its ruling economic classes -- to become increasingly frustrated with the inefficiencies of their own tumultuous democratic system. I am not talking here of a desire for authoritarianism but for more efficient and less corrupt governance. Competition with China could be the catalyst for the Indian government to perform better than it does. Precisely because there will be points of tension in the Indian-Chinese relationship, India must do all that it can to seek out points of agreement with China in order to stabilize relations. Merely seeking cooperative economic agreements with other countries along the rimland of the Indian Ocean will strengthen India's strategic position vis-à-vis China.

VM: As the economic balance of power shifts from the West to Asia, what role do you imagine India will play? How will the turbulence along the Central-South Asian corridor decrease or increase reliance on sea-lanes in the Indian Ocean?

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