Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s recent visit to Seychelles is seen as a fresh attempt by New Delhi to set up a military base in the island nation in view of China’s growing influence in the Indian Ocean Region.
Underlining the importance of the ties with the former British colony, Jaishankar had called on Seychelles’ newly-elected President, Wavel Ramkalawan.
Experts see this as an opportunity for India to revive the agreement to build military facilities on the Assumption Island, reported to be worth around $550 million, for the purpose of monitoring the Mozambique Channel.
Interestingly, it was the country’s opposition, then led by Ramkalawan, that had stalled the proposed agreement with India in 2018.
As the Chinese influence grows in the Indian Ocean Region with a military base in Djibouti, Beijing’s ambitions are clear to become a major player in the regional security affairs in this critical maritime space. Meanwhile, locked in a seven-month-long border stand-off with China, India has its eyes set on building a military facility on Assumption Island.
An observer in Victoria has told Nikkei Asia that as per the leaked reports, India is not just looking at building an airstrip and a naval jetty but the plan includes a garrison of up to 500 military personnel.
Thank Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan for receiving me today. Conveyed the greetings of PM @narendramodi and handed over a personal message.
Discussed our close security cooperation, strong development partnership and long-standing people-to-people contacts. pic.twitter.com/hbRWi9m6nA
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) November 27, 2020
In 2018, India and Seychelles had signed an agreement, valid for 20 years, for building an airstrip and a naval jetty on the Assumption Island but it was not ratified by Seychelles’ parliament. It was an upgrade of the 2015 agreement to build a military facility on Assumption Island.
Dennis Hardy, emeritus professor and former vice-chancellor of the University of Seychelles, told Nikkei Asia, that Ramkalawan finds himself in an awkward diplomatic position due to his earlier stance as the opposition leader but his government may devise a scheme to allow development in joint stewardship. But, he says, it will not happen “without trying to balance things with China”.
Seychelles is located at the crossroads of Africa, the Middle East, and India in the Indian Ocean, near some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Sankalp Gurjar, a Research Fellow with the Indian Council of World Affairs, underlines in an article published in The Deccan Herald that the importance of smaller yet geostrategically-located island nations like Seychelles, Maldives, Mauritius, and Sri Lanka is growing as geopolitics in the Indian Ocean heats up.
China has been attempting to build a military base in the island nation since 2011. Beijing is also taking steps to increase defense and security cooperation with Seychelles. The military units of Seychelles’ armed forces have not only been trained but they have also received two light aircraft and two naval ships from China.
Further, as per the Chinese foreign ministry website, China had financed the building of Seychelles’ parliament. Smaller projects like the “Palais de Justice” and expansion of the Anse Royale Hospital also bear the Chinese imprint on them.
A report by Fitch Solutions suggests that India-China’s struggle to attain geopolitical influence in the region is going to benefit Seychelles, a nation of 100,000 people, economically. The two states competing for naval influence will offer an opportunity for infrastructure development, trade, and financing.