Taiwan, a Malacca blockade and India’s options – India’s Strategic Dilemma in the Strait of Malacca | 9 November 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the India's Strategic Dilemma in the Strait of Malacca As tensions rise between the United States and China over Taiwan.


  • GS2: IR: Effect of Policies and Politics of Developed and Developing Countries on India’s interests, Indian Diaspora


  • As tensions rise between the United States and China over Taiwan, the question of India's potential role in the Strait of Malacca has come to the forefront.
  • The Strait, a narrow channel connecting the Indian Ocean with the Pacific Ocean, is a crucial maritime chokepoint for global trade, and any disruption could have severe economic consequences.


  • Constraints on Naval Blockade:
    • While India's strategic partnership with the United States has grown in recent years, there are significant constraints on India's ability to impose a naval blockade in the Strait of Malacca.
    • Firstly, “distant blockades” beyond a belligerent nation's coastline can be challenged under international law.
    • Secondly, the Strait is not just China's economic lifeline; it is also vital for Japan, South Korea, and India itself.
    • Thirdly, the Strait's length and the involvement of other littoral states like Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore would complicate a blockade.
    • Fourthly, identifying commercial shipping in terms of ownership and registration is complex, and vessels can easily change their flags or flags of convenience.
    • Fifthly, even if the Strait were “choked,” ships could reroute through the Sunda or Lombok Straits. Sixthly, China has substantial Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPRs) and growing overland energy supplies from Russia and Central Asia.
  • Lessons from History:
    • Naval blockades and sanctions have historically led to wider conflicts. In World War I, Germany's retaliation against British shipping with U-boats drew the United States into the war.
    • Similarly, the U.S. embargo on Japan's energy supplies in World War II likely played a role in Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.
    • The ongoing tensions between Iran and the U.S. in the Strait of Hormuz further illustrate how interdicting commercial shipping can easily escalate into a military conflict.
  • India's Strategic Role:
    • In the event of a Taiwan Strait conflict, India's primary role would likely be limited to defending its territorial interests and securing its sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean.
    • Its focus would remain on its continental borders with China. While India's partnership with the U.S. is expected to strengthen, there is no guarantee of support from other stakeholders, especially South-East Asian nations.

Way Forward:

  • India faces a strategic dilemma in the Strait of Malacca. While a naval blockade could disrupt China's economic lifeline, it would also have significant drawbacks, including legal challenges, economic repercussions, and the potential for escalation. India's primary focus should remain on safeguarding its own security interests and maintaining regional stability.

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