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China’s economic and military footprint in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) has expanded over the last two decades. The map above represents this footprint in the form of ports, overseas military bases and suspected outposts. China’s port infrastructure projects are spreads across the IOR and Beijing has financed, built and/or operated more than 21 ports in the region.
The above map does not represent the entirety of China’s port infrastructure projects. In some cases, Beijing has built entire ports from scratch or built a new port terminal, while in other projects it has upgraded the port infrastructure. The most recent project to be completed was the Lamu port in Kenya, which was made operational in May 2021. Other projects like the Bagamoyo project in Tanzania were cancelled by the newly elected government and construction halted, but negotiations between China and Tanzania are underway. The map also represents China’s overseas military presence in the IOR, including suspected military outposts used for intelligence collection. The PLA support base in Djibouti was built in 2016. Other suspected listening posts in the IOR are based in Myanmar’s territory.
Here is a list of ports mapped:
1. Port Sudan- Port Sudan is the main seaport of Sudan which is located on the western coast of the Red Sea. The port is part of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) that runs from the Chinese coast via the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean. Sudan’s state-run Sea Ports Corp. is considering China Harbour’s offer of $543 million USD in funding to expand facilities at the historic port. The facility is set up to transport cattle, camels and sheep for Asian markets.
2. Massawa New Port- The New Massawa port is the primary port for the import of goods into Eritrea. This port project was taken up by China Harbor Engineering Company Ltd. With 400 million USD in 2014. The project includes the construction of corresponding port area, incoming road, goods yard, office facilities, inspection area, power supply, water supply and drainage facilities, communication, installation of safety systems and the construction of other related facilities.
3. Dolareh Multipurpose Port- This multipurpose port was built to make Djibouti a major commercial and logistics hub between Asia, Africa and the rest of the world. It was the country’s first modern, deep-water, multi-purpose port. The port was financed by Djibouti Ports SA and China Merchant Holdings and built by China State Construction Engineering Corporation. The Doraleh Multipurpose Port was finally opened in July 2018 and was built at a cost of US$580 million.
4. Tadjourah Port- The Port of Tadjourah became operational in June 2017, under the aegis of the Djiboutian government, and its plan is to expand regional infrastructure network. It was primarily built to support potash export and it also serves as a multipurpose port for the region. The construction of this new port is administered by the Chinese company, BAO YE HUBEI Construction Engineering Group Ltd. It was financed by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development and the Saudi Fund for Development.
5. Mombasa Port- Port of Mombasa, the only international seaport in Kenya is the biggest port in east Africa. It is managed by the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and apart from cargo handling, the port is frequented by cruise ships. The project was initiated in by the Kenyan Government and carried out by China Roads and Bridge Corporation in 2011 at a cost of $82.15 million. The project aimed to increase the port throughput by 33%, consolidating the leading status of Mombasa as well as Kenya in East Africa.
6. Zanzibar New Port- This port has a 300 metre docking space and 65 metres of land craft, modern handling equipment with the capability to handle 200,000 containers and 250,000 tonnes of loose cargo. The Government of Zanzibar signed a 230 million USD deal with China Harbor Engineering Company Ltd. For the construction of a new port at Maruhubi. Zanzibar will have 25 years including a grace period of five years to repay the loan from the time the money is released; The agreement gives CHEC 13 per cent of the port shares for an undisclosed period of time.
7. Dar Es Salaam Port- The Port of Dar es Salaam is the principal port serving Tanzania and is one of three ocean ports in the country which handles over 90% of the country’s cargo traffic. Tanzania’s government signed a $154 million contract with the state-run China Harbour Engineering Company to expand the main port in the commercial capital and to build a roll-on, roll-off terminal and deepen and strengthen seven berths at the port.
8. Lamu Port- Lamu port is part of a large-scale transport corridor connecting Lamu, South Sudan, and Ethiopia. The port is part of the larger Lamu Port South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor, which is worth $23 billion. China Communications Construction Company built the first three of the intended 32 berths for $367 million.
9. Beira City Fishing Port- This project is a valuable platform to secure and scale up the fishing industry in Mozambique. Chinese government funding of some USD 120 million has enabled the makeover of Mozambique’s fishing port of Beira in the north of the country. The China Harbour Engineering Company Ltd has been rehabilitating the port since 2017 and has now become double in size.
10. Tamatave Port- In November 2015, the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) signed a contract for the project of Tamatave Deepwater Port in Madagascar, which involves the construction of container and bulk terminals along with other auxiliary facilities. The global traffic of Toamasina Port is evaluated at 1.7 million tons per year, of which 70% is containerized. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) offered 411 million USD to fund the project and 227 million USD has been provided by the Government of Madagascar.
11. Techobanine Port- The construction of the Techobanine Port and Railway project in Mozambique is being led and funded by the Joaquim Chissano Foundation and the Muiake Company, in coordination with the China Railway International Group. This infrastructure project for the deepwater port of Techobanine in Matutuíne district, southern Maputo province is expected to make feasible the exploitation of heavy sands in the provinces of Gaza and Inhambane.
12. Port of Durban- The Durban port expansion is China’s second biggest mega-project in South Africa, costing $15 billion and is financed by Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries. The Port of Durban, located in South Africa, is the largest and busiest shipping terminal in sub-Saharan Africa.
13. Richards Bay Port– In view of expanding the Richards Bay Port and developing a completely new shipbuilding and repair facility, South Africa signed a deal with China’s Chery Holdings, with other partners such as South Africa’s Industrial Development Corporation, the China Development Bank, the China Africa Development Fund and Imbani Holdings. The Port of Richards Bay is located on the coast of South Africa, facing the Indian Ocean. Not only is it the most modern port in all of South Africa, it also contains largest coal export facility in Africa.
14. Chittagong Port-Fuelling bilateral ties between China and Bangaldesh, China has provided large-scale funding for Chittagong port development and construction, for the sake of achieving joint economic and trade development. Located on the banks of the Karnaphuli River, Chittagong port is the main seaport of Bangladesh, handling about 80% of Bangladesh’s export-import trade.
15. Gwadar Port-The Gwadar Port in Pakistan’s Balochistan province is a project of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and is operated by China Overseas Port Holding Company (COPHC). The Gwadar Port, situated on the Arabian Sea, is viewed as a link between the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Maritime Silk Road (MSR) projects.
16. Hambantota Port- The Hambantota Port is a part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and was handed over to China Merchants Port Holdings on a 99-year lease by the Sri Lankan government. The Hambantota International Port is Sri Lanka’s second largest deep water port, located in Hambantota, close to international shipping routes like the Suez Canal and the Strait of Malacca.
17. Kyaukphyu Port-The Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Deep Sea Port Project signed between Myanmar and China is a cornerstone project under the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), which is itself a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The China International Trust and Investment Corporation Group (CITIC) is the main developer of the project, which also includes plans to construct an industrial zone. Located on the western coast of Myanmar in Rakhine state, the Kyaukphyu Port sits on the Bay of Bengal and is part of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
18. Karachi Deepwater Terminal-The Karachi deep water container terminal started operating on December 2016, at the Karachi Port in Pakistan, one of South Asia’s largest and busiest deep-water seaports. The Karachi terminal, also known as the Hutchison Ports Pakistan (HPP) terminal, was developed under a public-private joint venture of Karachi Port Trust (KPT) and Hong Kong-based Hutchison Ports, is a vital project under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) system, which is a part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
19. Colombo Port Terminal– A consortium including the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) is involved in the engineering, procurement and construction of the East Container Terminal (ECT) at Colombo Port in Sri Lanka. Another Chinese company, the China Merchant Port Holdings Company, is involved in the Colombo International Container Terminal as well. The ECT project requires the construction of a quay wall and infrastructure around it.
20. Payra Port– Two Chinese companies, China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) and China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) were responsible for the construction and development of core port infrastructure at Payra port. CHEC built the core infrastructure for $150 million USD while CSCEC fortified riparian areas, reduced flood risk and set up housing, education and health facilities at $ 60 million USD.
21. Bagamoyo Port-This port in Tanzania is a stalled port project that is currently being renegotiated by the Tanzania government and China Merchant Holdings. The $10 billion USD project is 75 km to the north of Bagamoyo town and is expected to reduce the congestion at the port of Dar Es Salaam.
Beyond the ports mapped, we have also focused on the following:
1. PLA Support Base-Situated in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Support Base is a military base operated by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). The PLA Support Base primarily serves to support military logistics for Chinese troops in the Gulf of Aden, and also other activities involving maritime public goods, including peacekeeping, humanitarian and disaster relief operations in Africa. It also bolsters the Chinese navy’s efforts to prevent piracy and allows easy access for the PLA’s warships into the Arabian Sea, Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, significantly increasing China’s power projection and blue water capabilities.
The Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean Region has several pressing implications for India’s influence in the region. For starters, Chinese seaports and maritime engagements in IOR states could enhance the PLA-N’s power projection capabilities in the IOR. By building debt burdens and cultivating goodwill/influence with governments across the region, Beijing opens up the possibility of having more overseas bases or ports that it can operate. The close engagement with African states could also translate into defence agreements and other military engagements that expand the PLA-N’s area of operations and experience.
For India, these developments ought to reinvigorate the focus on domestic and diplomatic efforts that enhance India’s presence and influence on the IOR. The SAGAR and SAGARMALA projects are significant efforts in this regard to improve domestic capacity and deepen maritime security with neighbours in the region. Similarly, the focus on the Blue Economy can diversify India’s maritime economic engagements and offer development opportunities to the IOR.