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Robert Kaplan: Indian Ocean becomes battleground for India and China

'China wants a presence. India is unnerved by all of this,' Robert Kaplan, author of 'Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power,' told a small gathering in Cambridge.

By Staff writer / October 26, 2010

Helicopters fly past the Chinese Jiangwei II class naval frigate "Luoyang" at an international fleet review to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Liberation Army Navy in Qingdao, Shandong province in this 2009 file photo. India is concerned about China's potential aggressiveness in the area of the Indian Ocean.

Guang Niu/Pool/Reuters



Let's play connect the dots. After the US midterm elections, President Obama will visit India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan. Trace a line between the nations, noting how it loops down through the Indian Ocean and back up through the South China Sea and East China Sea, forming a semicircle around China.

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The route underscores the importance of these nations and bodies of water as the United States seeks to check the growing assertiveness of China, says Robert Kaplan, author of newly published “Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power.”

“It's not a war I'm predicting, but what I am alluding toward is a very complex, Metternichian arrangement of power from the Horn of Africa all the way up through the Sea of Japan,” Mr. Kaplan told a small crowd Monday at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge. "We don't have to interfere everywhere, we just have to move closer to our democratic allies in the region so they can do more of the heavy lifting."

Opinion: Will US naval power sink?

China's ongoing dispute in the East China Sea over islands claimed by Japan is the most recent example of Beijing's growing assertiveness on water. South Korea and Indonesia – the other stopovers for Mr. Obama next month – are also wary of China's wide-reaching maritime claims. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for her part, seems to be filling in the gap between these countries with her upcoming visits to Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, and New Zealand.

Rise of India and China

A correspondent for the Atlantic and member of the Defense Policy Board federal advisory committee, Kaplan says he is convinced that the West should focus on the role that emerging superpowers China and India will play as they battle for dominance in the Indian Ocean, an area rich in resources and vital to shipping.


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