So, why is it considered to be of significance from economic and geopolitical perspective. Answer lies in the enormous trade that occur through the IOR. The economic development and population explosion of the littoral countries has led to an increase in the trade through this region. The major products commerced through this route encompass iron, coal, rubber, tea and crude oil. Iron ore from Western Australia states, India and South Africa is exported to Japan, while coal is exported to UK from Australia through this route. Processed sea food is emerging as a major export item, though petrolium dominates commerce as IOR is chief throughway for transport of petrolium products to UK, America and East Asia.
|Percentage of the World oil shipment through Indian Ocean choke points.|
Courtesy : wsws.org
Strait of Malacca is a strait that lies between Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. This route is the shortest routes that connects the Persian Gulf and its market in Asia. This strait connects the Indian Ocean with the South China sea and the Pacific Ocean. Thus, it carries the crude oil coming from the Persian Gulf by crossing Indian Ocean through the Strait of Malacca to the South China sea and Pacific Ocean towards China, South Kora, Japan and other Pacific Rim states. Again, any disruption in this channel will lead to rise in the freight cost and also delay in shipping as alternate route is substantially very long.
Bab-el-Mandeb is the third most busiest and crucial throughway after Strait of Hormuz and Strait of Malacca. It connects Indian Ocean with the Red Sea by the way of Gulf of Aden. This strait carries most of the European crude oil imports as it allows the tanker to carry oil from the Persian Gulf through the Suez Canal and then through pipeline to Europe and USA. In the event of closure of Bab -el-Mandeb, all the tankers have to be routed through Cape of Good Hope to Europe and America. This will again jack up the shipping cost besides adding 4750 nautical miles and 12-14 extra days.
Apart from all the trade that occurs through this region, Indian Ocean is becoming increasingly important with discoveries of oil and gas reserves. Recently, China has proposed India for joint exploration of Indian Ocean with its deep sea mining technology.
From all this, we can posit that Indian Ocean is becoming hub of global economic activity and hence this route is also of strategic importance with many major countries having their naval bases in this region. US uses the island of Diego Garcia as a major air-naval base.France, meanwhile, maintains a significant presence in the Indian Ocean with naval bases in Djibouti, Reunion and Abu Dhabi. India has a huge military presence in Andaman and Nicobar island. India also has established listening posts in the Seychelles, Madagascar and Mauritius. India has also included Maldives under its security grid.
|Courtesy : cimsec.org|
In a nut shell, with rapid increase in energy demand across the globe and Indian Ocean being immensely rich in that, Indian Ocean is going to be more significant in global politics and economic arena than it has ever been before.