China’s attempts to expand its footprint to the Indian Ocean via a virtual meeting of regional development cooperation forum on November 21 at Kunming is becoming more interesting as Beijing bypassed key ministries in the littoral states while sending invitations.
Though Chinese propaganda media claims that China International Development Cooperation Agency is interested in working with India for the benefit of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), data gathered from different capitals indicates that officials from client countries, Sinophile experts, and various private individuals attended the event.
While the Chinese organizers sent an invitation to Maldives through their foreign ministry, the foreign ministers of Sri Lankan, Madagascar, and Mauritius remained out of the loop throughout the whole program. On November 15, 2022, the Maldives government announced its decision to not participate in the forum through Male’s Chinese embassy. Mohammed Waheed attended the virtual meeting, a pro China former president from Maldives. Waheed had previously thrown out Indian GMR under an airport operations contract.
The Myanmar client state attended the virtual meeting, represented by U Ko Ko Hliang (Minister for International Cooperation). Assistant Professor and Head, Oceanography Department at Dhaka University, Dr K M Azam Chowdhury was the representative from Bangladesh. Official representation was also received from Pakistan, the client state.
The meeting was attended by Kevin Rudd, former prime Minister of Australia and head of the think tank with an India chapter. A Sinophile, Australia left the Malabar 2008 naval drills after China demarched India and Australia. Australia was no longer a member QUAD after his tenure. This idea was brought up by Shinzo Abe, then the Japanese PM.
Although Chinese media attempted to portray the Kunming Meeting as a major Indian Ocean Region initiative and a rebuke to India, the diplomatic evidence shows that it was actually a minor event where a junior Indian minister additional secretary spoke to the crowd through prerecorded audio. Through the participation of client states in South Asia, and IOR already in debt to China, the meeting revealed more information about President Xi Jinping’s plans for the Indian Ocean than the Indo-Pacific’s military capability to challenge the QUAD.