A Broken String of Pearls

China is revamping its energy supply: Away from global trade routes, and towards regional cooperation with Russia.

In 2004, the consultancy firm Booz Allen Hamilton coined a term for China’s energy supply strategy, terming it a “String of Pearls.” Loading barrels in the Middle East, Chinese tankers travel half of the globe to their home ports and are escorted by Chinese vessels along the way. A complex network of alliances provides for supplies and happy sailors’ nights out. The “pearls” are all those countries that are adjacent to the tankers’ sea lanes, such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Burma.

But what happens if Burma has the idea of turning a little more democratic, and turn its head in the direction of Washington, instead of Beijing? Would this mean that China’s string of pearls is broken, and that the pearls are ready to roll in the direction of the US?

As for Burma, there is still a long road to go towards real political representation for its people. It is a good sign that the country’s rulers allowed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to take part to the April 1 elections, leading her “National League for Democracy” to grab 43 seats (out of 45 seats that were up for election). Yet the power structure of the country is still largely military-centric: ground troops still account for the lion’s share in the state budget and control the obscure markets and trades of oil and gas.