India to build major military facility in Seychelles amid growing China influence

Insecurities deepen in Delhi after Beijing inaugurates overseas base near one of world's busiest shipping lanes

Samuel Osborne
Monday 19 February 2018 13:43 GMT
India signs 20-year-pact with Seychelles to build airstrip and jetty for navy on Assumption Island
India signs 20-year-pact with Seychelles to build airstrip and jetty for navy on Assumption Island (NASA)

India is preparing to build a military base in the Seychelles as part of the country’s ongoing contest with China for influence in the Indian Ocean.

Last month, India signed a 20 year pact with the Seychelles to build an airstrip and a jetty for its navy on Assumption Island.

The Seychelles are of high strategic importance to India, as the island chain lies close to key global shipping lanes.

It came after China inaugurated its first overseas military base in Djibouti last year, near one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, deepening Indian insecurities and pushing it to gain a foothold in the region.

The pact, which was first announced when the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, visited the islands in 2015, has faced problems as critics who feared a handover of territory demanded the Seychelles government make clear the terms of India’s role.

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Earlier this month, around 50 people held a protest against the construction of the naval base. They argued the details of the project had not been made public and it could have a catastrophic impact on the local environment.

One of the organisers of the protest, Ralph Volcere, told the Seychelles News Agency: “This agreement is not being supported by the people of Seychelles. We do not know any details, what is the arrangement? What are the costs?

“Our problem is that Seychelles cannot get involved in conflicts of superpowers. We need to remain nonaligned, friendly to all – enemy to none.”

He added: “This facility on Assumption will place Seychelles at great risk should a military conflict involving India ever happen. We are dealing with countries with nuclear powers here.”

India and the Seychelles are maritime neighbours with a stake in each other’s security, India’s foreign secretary, Subrahmaniam Jaishankar, said after signing the deal.

The two countries “have drawn up a cooperation agenda that covers joint efforts in anti-piracy operations, and enhanced surveillance and monitoring to prevent intrusions by potential economic offenders,” he said.

These are people engaged in illegal fishing, poaching, drug and human trafficking, he added.

China has been building ports, power stations and highways across Asia, but the terms of some of its investments have caused anger.

In Sri Lanka, it faced criticism after taking control of the southern port of Hambantota it had built in a debt-to-equity swap deal.

India has tried to be more careful, avoiding giving hard loans and casting its assistance as a joint endeavour.

However, military officials called the Seychelles pact a big step in extending the reach of India’s navy, which is expected to rotate its ships and aircraft through the islands.

“The development is a clear indicator that India’s geostrategic frontier is expanding in tandem with China’s growing strategic footprint in the Indo-Pacific,” Captain Gurpreet Khurana, of the Indian Navy’s National Maritime Foundation, said.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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