China eyes rail link to Chittagong - The Times of India NEW DELHI: The Chinese 'string of pearls' could well choke India one day if it's not careful. After strategic projects in Myanmar, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, China is moving closer to establishing a direct rail-road link to Bangladesh's port city of Chittagong as well as in helping construct the Sonadia deep-sea port at Cox's Bazaar. China-watchers in the Indian security establishment say there has been "a flurry of activity" between Beijing and Dhaka on the two projects over the last couple of months. Late last month, for instance, China's Yunnan province governor Qin Guangrong met Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina to promise all support for the proposed 111-km-long road-rail link between the two countries, with Beijing keen to sew up the agreement with Dhaka as soon as possible. The project envisages connecting Chittagong with Yunnan province, via Myanmar, with the link distance measuring a mere 111 km. China has already roped in Myanmar for the tri-lateral project, which will help reduce its huge dependence on the global trade route through the Malacca Strait. "China already has transit facilities through the Chittagong port, apart from commercial interests. A strong Chinese presence in Chittagong is bound to have security implications for India. It is, after all, our strategic backyard," said a senior official. Many experts, however, feel that while India and China may be contesting for the same strategic space in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the latter plays the game much better and sharper. "China plays at the strategic level, while we continue to flounder at the operational level. We simply don't have clear pro-active policies in tune with our so-called geopolitical aspirations," said an analyst. In keeping with the " string of pearls" strategic construct, China has forged extensive maritime links with eastern Africa, Seychelles, Mauritius, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Cambodia, among others. While China's main objective is to ensure the security of its sea lanes which provide critically-needed energy imports, it also amounts to a virtual encircling of India. "China, of course, also needs ground stations across the IOR for its satellites to watch over the region in real-time," said a military officer. Pakistan, of course, has always been a more-than-willing partner in all this, from the Gwadar deep-sea port built with Chinese help in Baluchistan to the Pakistan-China rail link and several projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. "China continues to consolidate its position in our neighbourhood. We need to take serious note of it," said an officer. In fact, during the combined commanders' conference earlier this week, the Indian military brass warned the political leadership about the "serious challenges" posed by China's expanding strategic footprint in IOR as well as South Asia.