Geostrategic competition for military basing in the Indian Ocean region

Soldiers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy take part in a ceremony as a replenishment ship sets sail to the Gulf of Aden and the waters off Somalia, from a naval port in Qingdao, Shandong province, China September 3, 2020. Picture taken September 3, 2020. China Daily via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT.

Executive summary

Military basing and access across the Indian Ocean region (IOR) is an important – and asymmetric – object of strategic competition in the contemporary international security environment. The region’s maritime geography and the major powers’ varied security interests in the theater are shaping the force postures and strategic interactions of America, China, India, Australia, France, and Britain as they pursue regional military basing and access objectives. China, in particular, is seeking to establish a greater military presence and a more robust operational foothold in the IOR, heightening the United States’ strategic interest in the region. America’s changing global force posture and the high-end challenges it faces in the western Pacific and Europe make the legacy U.S. basing network in the region ill-suited to meet growing international security demands. Given that the United States shares certain threat perceptions and objectives with key regional maritime democracies and other like-minded partners, Washington should develop deeper security and economic partnerships as it rebalances its IOR posture to meet the asymmetric challenge posed by the PRC.


  • Acknowledgements and disclosures

    The author thanks Andrew Yeo for providing vital support and feedback throughout the drafting of this brief, as well as Darshana Baruah, Josh White, Jennifer Kavanagh, and participants in the “Great Power Competition and Overseas Basing” workshop hosted by the Brookings Institution for providing invaluable insights and comments, Lori Merritt for editing, and Rachel Slattery for layout.