The Indian Ocean, one of the three largest oceans on earth, is a major economic, social and cultural resource for millions of people in Africa, Asia, Australia as well as other continents that use it for various purposes. It runs from the eastern shores of the massive African continent to Australia in the west, frames the entire southern shoreline of the Asian continent and moves as far south as Antarctica.
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Currently, statistics indicate that the annual value of international trade through the Indian Ocean is worth more than $ 1 trillion (Connell, 2009). Estimates also indicate that the value of trade is likely to increase with a large margin due to the increasing economic performances of the countries in Africa, Asia, China, and Australia.
In particular, the increasing interest of China, India and other southern Asian states in the Africa-Asia and Asia-European trade is expected to play a significant role in determining the future of the Indian Ocean trade as well as the Indian Ocean World.
In his work, Anthony Reid developed one of the most successful research studies on the status, role and future of the Indian Ocean on human lives. In his work “age of commerce-15th to the 17th century”, Reid portrays a maritime arena that was characterized by massive cultural and economic exchanges and interactions between the port cities and port city-states in China, the Arab World, India, and some African states.
Although some scholars have challenged this notion, it has been agreed that the commercial input of Reid’s maritime arena was evident and continued to play a critical economic role for the centralized states depending on the ocean.
Reid further notes that the ocean played a vital role in the cultural, economic and social interaction between various communities in various parts of the world in the early modern history, especially between the 17th century and the end of the 19th century.
Although Europe is not part of the continents bordering the Indian Ocean, Europeans have been probably the greatest beneficiaries of the Ocean. For instance, Britain, Netherlands, Portugal, Germany, and France used the Indian Ocean trade and navigation routes to reach the eastern part of Africa, southern Asia and South East Asia to expand their trade routes, develop colonial and overseas posts and expand military welfare.
India, Britain’s second most important colony after the USA, was the best example of the overseas colonies that the UK benefitted from due to the proximity of the Indian Ocean. The spread of English and Portuguese languages, European culture and economic systems across the Indian Ocean were significant, especially in South Asia and East African states.
In modern times, the US, China, and India are the largest players of the development, control and use of the Indian Ocean, trade routes therein and other activities. For instance, since 2000, China has increased its activities in the ocean by more than ten times. In particular, the current China-Africa trade relationships are defining the future of the Indian Ocean World.
For example, China has established and taken an active role in using the Asia-African trade route to supply relatively cheap products to the African markets, especially basic goods, technologies, infrastructural products, machinery, and other industrial products. In addition, Africa has become a major supplier of raw materials to the Chinese industries, which has made it possible for the two regions to develop massive trade routes across the Indian Ocean.
Similarly, the Chinese-Asian trade across the Indian Ocean has increased in the last few years. In particular, the volume of Chinese products in the Middle East and southern Asia, including India, has increased significantly because the Chinese industries are attempting to expand their global markets.
For instance, the volume of Chinese industrial products in the Dubai market is relatively large and depends on the Indian Ocean trade routes between the UAE and China. Similarly, India has become a major producer of industrial products, which are exported to other parts of southern Asia as well as Africa through the Indian Ocean trade routes.
On the other hand, the US, France, and Britain have established massive military bases in various parts of the Indian Ocean and controls some maritime territories in the region. The US and Britain operate naval bases in East Africa, South Asia, and the middle east, which depend on the Indian ocean.
As the threat of terrorism increase across the world, these nations are seeking to expand their naval presence on the Indian Ocean, especially because the Middle East and the Arab world, in general, are the major areas where terrorism thrives.
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Therefore, it is worth noting that the future of the Indian Ocean world is largely determined by these factors. In particular, the role of China and India in the control of the Indian Ocean trade routes is significantly high.
It is expected that China’s increasing rate of economic and industrial growth will result in an expansion of its markets in Asia and Africa, which means that the volume of vessels across the Indian Ocean will increase by more than 30% in 2030. In addition, the volume of products sold to China and India from Africa and other developing nations in Asia will increase significantly.
Moreover, India’s current expansion of its naval activities in the Indian Ocean is expected to increase as the country’s economy improves. It is also expected that the US, Australia, Britain, and other western nations will increase their economic presence in the Indian Ocean.
In particular, the increased role of Britain and Australia in Oil, gas and other mineral exploration along the Indian Ocean coast of Africa will result into increased Europe-Africa and Africa-Asia trade, which will develop new definitions of the Indian Ocean World.
Connell, J. (2009). Sovereignty & survival: Island microstates in the Third World. Sydney: University of Sydney.