While much has been written about China's port development projects in the Indian Ocean region, it is actually Beijing's undersea activities in the area that may prove to be the greater source of consternation for India and its navy. In July, the China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association announced that it had secured approval from the International Seabed Authority (ISA) to explore the southwestern Indian Ocean ridge for polymetallic sulphide nodules.
The move was not received well in Indian policymaking circles, which believe that it not only reflects Beijing's intentions to extract resources from the Indian Ocean region but may actually pave the way for a naval presence in the medium term. Given India's recent moves in the South China Sea, it is now increasingly apparent that a slow but steady back and forth of strategic counterposturing is underway in the Indo-Pacific.
The ISA approval allows China's to search for the nodules -- rich in copper, iron, lead, zinc, gold and silver -- over an area measuring 3,900 square miles for a period of 15 years and also grants subsequent priority mining rights. A contract expected to be signed in November this year will specifically grant China pre-emptive rights to develop the ore deposits in the future. The move represents a considerable expansion of China's push to look beyond dwindling land-based resources to power its economic surge.