New Delhi: India is going to establish its first overseas military base on the Seychelles archipelago. The country has signed a 20-year pact with Seychelles to build an airstrip and a jetty in the island chain to strengthen its naval presence in the Indian Ocean to counter growing Chinese hegemony in the strategically critical region.
China last year inaugurated its first overseas military base in Djibouti, near one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
India’s foreign secretary Subramaniam Jaishankar and the Seychelles secretary of state Barry Faure signed an agreement approving an Indian navy base and airstrip on Assumption Island.
“This (agreement) reinforces our commitment to not only further deepen India-Seychelles relations but also take our partnership to another level,” Mr. Jaishankar said in a statement after signing the agreement.
Diplomatic and naval officials said the treaty agreement was a revised version of an earlier one signed by prime minister Narendra Modi during his Seychelles visit in March 2015. The earlier agreement, however, failed to secure ratification by the Seychelles parliament amid concern over its legality.
Indian warships travel to Seychelles to conduct anti-piracy patrols on a regular basis.
India has a major interest in Seychelles in terms of defence and security cooperation. New Delhi has been active in providing training to the Seychelles Peoples Defence Force (SPDF) and the Indian Navy has provided cooperation to tackle piracy in the vast Indian Ocean waters around Seychelles. The Indian interests in Seychelles is also because of security reasons as the Indian Ocean is the connecting point between both the countries and China has been extending its support to Seychelles continuously to protect its waters. The presence of Chinese Naval ships around Seychelles will be a matter of concern for India and hence the defence cooperation between both the countries needs to be explored more.
What is String of pearls?
In 2005, the U.S. consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton came up with the “string of pearls” hypothesis in an internal US Department of Defense report titled “Energy Futures in Asia.”
According to this report, China will try to expand its naval presence by building civilian maritime infrastructure along the Indian Ocean periphery.
The String of pearls is a geopolitical theory on potential Chinese intentions in the Indian Ocean region. It refers to the network of Chinese military and commercial facilities and relationships along its sea lines of communication, which extend from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan. The sea lines run through several major maritime choke points such as the Strait of Mandeb, the Strait of Malacca, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Lombok Strait as well as other strategic maritime centers in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Somalia.
During the cold war, Southeast Asia was considered a distant theatre but after the demise of the Soviet Union and the rise of China, the focus has shifted to the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
Beijing has been building ports, power stations, and highways across Asia, but the terms of some of its investments have angered people. In Sri Lanka, China faced criticism after taking control of the southern port of Hambantota it had built in a debt-to-equity swap deal.
Analysts see the Seychelles pact as a big step in extending the reach of India’s navy in the Indian Ocean region.