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United States-China-India Strategic Triangle in the Indian Ocean Region

Sithara Fernando

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While the strategic dynamics in the IOR are complex and involve many powers there is little doubt that the “strategic triangle” involving the US, China and India is one of the key traditional security issues facing the IOR. Given Sri Lanka’s geopolitically significant location in the IOR this strategic triangle is bound to have an impact on its national interests and security.

The central questions raised by this volume are the following:

1. What are the prospects of competition and cooperation within the strategic triangle?

2. What structure or pattern will the triangular relations assume?

3. How can stability be maintained in the triangular relationship in the interest of peace in the IOR? and

4. What would be the impact of this strategic triangle on a small country such as

Sri Lanka situated in a geopolitically significant location in the IOR?

The dynamics of the US-China-India strategic triangle in the IOR will be complicated, containing elements of both competition and cooperation. The research contained in the substantive chapters of this volume present a multiplicity of views on the possible patterns that the strategic triangle can assume. Based on Harry Harding’s typology of the strategic triangle in international affairs, these include: one mediating the conflict between the other two; two-against-one; and all-working-together. The multiplicity of patterns that the strategic triangle could assume indicate that there is likely to be considerable fluctuation in its structure. What is important in maintaining stability is that the competition is not allowed to become unmanageable, and the fostering of cooperation based on common interests.

The US-China-India strategic triangle poses Sri Lanka as a country situated in a geopolitically significant location in the IOR with both challenges and opportunities. The most fundamental challenge is posed by the tendency of each of these three major powers to subordinate Sri Lanka to their grand strategic objectives and interaction with each other. The fundamental opportunity presented to Sri Lanka by the strategic triangle is that of using its geopolitical importance to each of these three major powers by virtue of its location in the IOR to its own advantage in a way that best serves its national interests.

Sithara Fernando Dr. Sithara Fernando is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Strategic Studies, General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University (KDU), Sri Lanka. He obtained his BSc (Hons.) in International Relations from the London School of Economics (LSE), University of London, and MA, MPhil and PhD from the School of International Studies (SIS), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. He has been a recipient of the Kodikara Award presented by the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS), Colombo. He has also been a visiting scholar at the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), Delhi. His teaching areas include International Relations, Strategic Studies and Maritime Strategy and Security.




1. Introduction
A. L. D. M. Gunasekara

2. US-India-China Strategic Triangle in the Indian Ocean Region: An Indian Perspective
Chintamani Mahapatra and Vivek Mishra

3. US-China-India Triangle in the Indian Ocean Region: A US Perspective
Nilanthi Samaranayake

4. US-China-India Triangle in the Indian Ocean Region: A Chinese Perspective
Li Qingyan

5. US-China-India Triangular Relations in the Indian Ocean Region: Combining Power Balancing with a Cooperative Approach
Sithara Fernando

6. Trincomalee, a Factor to Leverage the Geostrategic Advantage of Sri Lanka
Prasanna Alahakoon

7. The “String of Pearls” Syndrome; Understanding the Realities: The Case of Sri Lanka
Y. N. Jayarathna

8. Non-Traditional Threats in the Indian Ocean Region: Prospects for Cooperation
Abhijit Singh

9. Conclusion
Sithara Fernando