The Costliest Pearl

China's Struggle for India's Ocean

February 2019 9781849049962 288pp
EU Customers


The Indian Ocean’s strategic importance to China cannot be underestimated, given the oil, African minerals and container traffic that pass through it. Yet, until now, China has been absent from the region since Admiral Zheng He sailed his fleet through in the fifteenth century, exploring and mapping the waters in a bid to extend the Celestial Empire’s trading and tributary system.

Beijing’s re-entry into the Indian Ocean after 600 years is part of Xi Jinping’s ‘Belt and Road’ megaproject. He is investing trillions of dollars in infrastructure projects around the Ocean rim, including a military base in Djibouti. This has touched off a new and dangerous confrontation. Ranged against China is an informal alliance of India, the US, France, Australia, and, predictably, Japan—Beijing’s arch-rival in the Asia–Pacific.

Bertil Lintner unearths this dramatic story, profiling the key players, examining the economic and naval balance of power, and scrutinising New Delhi and Beijing’s intense competition for the allegiance of small island nations. China is in the Indian Ocean for the long haul, and the entry of big-power politics into this sensitive maritime region will shape its future for decades to come.


‘Meticulously chronicled . . . [an] illuminating view from the field.‘ — The Literary Review

‘Enlightening’ — Asian Review of Books

‘Lintner’s decades of reporting from all over Asia lend him shrewd insight into the region’s geography and politics.’ — Foreign Affairs

‘Lintner’s book offers more than an account of Chinese efforts to extend its economic, diplomatic and military presence to the far-flung islands of the Indian Ocean. It is a primer on the history and politics of the Indian Ocean rim largely ignored by the mainstream media.’ — Global Asia

‘A detailed and intriguing account of the rising Chinese superpower’s Indian Ocean manoeuvres in a budding new cold war among atolls and island states. This is an indispensable reference tool for anyone interested in this region and in the future of our global order.’ — Lars Ellström, author of Road to Kashgar: Notes from a Walk through China

‘Four-fifths of the container traffic between Asia and the rest of the world, and three-fifths of the world’s oil supplies, pass through the Indian Ocean. The new great game takes place here. This book is a comprehensive and enthralling guide to the Ocean’s geopolitics, China’s designs for the future of the region and the precarious search for balance. Highly recommended.’ — Bruno Maçães, author of Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order


Bertil Lintner is an acclaimed journalist and expert on contemporary South-East Asia, especially Myanmar. Formerly the Far Eastern Economic Review’s Burma correspondent, and Asia correspondent for the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, he is the author of, among others, The Costliest Pearl and The Golden Land Ablaze (both published by Hurst).

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