In This Review

The Costliest Pearl: China’s Struggle for India’s Ocean
The Costliest Pearl: China’s Struggle for India’s Ocean
By Bertil Lintner
Hurst, 2019, 288 pp

The Indian Ocean is scattered with islands, some small, some large, some inhabited, some not, but all strategically significant and all more or less militarized. They range from the Comoros and Madagascar, near the African coast, to the Maldives and Diego Garcia, south of India, to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Cocos Islands, off the coasts of Myanmar and Indonesia, respectively. Lintner recounts centuries of competition among pirates, fishermen, slave traders, mercenaries, money launderers, colonists, and the occasional North Korean adviser to an island dictator. In recent times, the Indian and U.S. navies have dominated the ocean. But under its Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing has been building ports at a rate that suggests China may have ambitions to join them as a major Indian Ocean power. Lintner’s decades of reporting from all over Asia lend him shrewd insight into the region’s geography and politics. The book does not substantiate his claim that the risk of war is greater in the Indian Ocean than in the South China Sea, but it shatters any complacency the Indian navy and its partners might have about their ability to dominate these waters without challenge.