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What is a "String of Pearls" Strategy?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A string of pearls strategy is a strategic move that involves establishing a series of nodes of military and economic power throughout a region. Each node is a “pearl” in the string, enhancing the overall power of the parent nation. This strategic relations move is an excellent way to enfold a greater area of territory, thereby gaining more influence on the global stage, but it often evokes comment from other nations, who may be concerned that the strategy is the first step in a serious takeover or military threat.

Several things are included in a string of pearls strategy. The first is increased access to airfields and ports. This may be accomplished by building new facilities or through establishing cordial relations with other nations to ensure access to their ports. In some cases, the strategy involves heavily subsidizing construction of new port and airfield facilities in other countries, with the understanding that these facilities will be made readily available as needed.

Developing better diplomatic relations is also a crucial step in this strategy. Partly, this is undertaken to ensure that shipping lanes and airspace remain free and clear. It may also be used to soothe concerns about a rapidly expanding string of pearls, and to establish solid trade and export agreements which may ultimately benefit both nations. Since the strategy may rely on linking a series of pearls, it is important to ensure that each pearl is also safe, and that it will not be threatened by neighboring nations.

Modernizing military forces is another component. A modern military can more effectively maintain and hold individual pearls, and it will also be prepared for various actions and exercises on the part of the parent nation. China's string of pearls strategy, for example, includes improvements to the military to indicate that China is ready to meet potential threats. The modernized military also supports a country's rise as a global power, and as a nation which commands respect.

For nations that are slowly encircled in a string of said pearls, the strategy can be upsetting. A country may also slowly take over shipping lanes, which is an issue of concern to nations which are not closely allied with it. China, for example, has growing influence on shipping lanes throughout the Indian ocean, leading some countries to express unease about the safety of oil and supply shipments in the region.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Historical Index researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By burcidi — On May 09, 2012

@turquoise-- I don't think this term has ever been used by the US. It emerged in relation to China, it's their theory and I don't think it applies to any other nation as of I right now. I could be wrong though.

It all started with China's naval expansion and wanting to guarantee naval ports followed by airfields in the surrounding bodies of water. Diplomatic relations and a stronger military was what was needed to assure this.

As you might know, one of the major issues for China is energy. They're trying to secure their energy for the future. They've started many new endeavors to achieve this, like the alliance with other Global South nations like South Africa and Brazil. The string of pearls strategy makes sure that the sea lines that China depends on for delivery of their energy resources is open and clear for them.

In my view, the whole strategy is about energy-- oil.

By turquoise — On May 09, 2012

@turkay1-- So does a nation have to be engaging military, politically and economically in other countries in order for it to be called a "string of pearls strategy?" Or is it enough if it's just economic or just diplomatic?

I guess I'm a little confused because India is said to be countering China's strategy by strengthening diplomatic ties with the same countries. But isn't this something that many nations do already?

And the US also has many military bases across the world. Can the US be said to be using a string of pearls strategy too? Can anyone clarify?

By candyquilt — On May 08, 2012

Yep, India is not at all happy about China's string of pearls. They see it as a violation of India's sphere of influence.

India used to be very influential in the Arabian Gulf. But China has improved diplomatic ties with the Arabian Gulf which is now leaning towards China, not India. China is also working with many of India's neighbors in Southeast Asia and Africa like Sri Lanka. And this includes all kinds of cooperation from military to economic to social. China's educational endeavors in various African countries is also well know.

I understand India's point of view here. Their power in the region is being threatened by China's string of pearls strategy. But I also understand what China is doing. China is a global power now and will become even more powerful in the near future. It has to advance its reach regionally if it wants to compete with the US and Europe militarily and economically. I don't think a superpower can become a superpower without a strategy like this.

What do you think?

By anon105134 — On Aug 19, 2010

should have had more details but good for basic knowledge for students.

By anon7553 — On Jan 29, 2008

Nice information. Keep it up!!!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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