March 10, 2015
With Narendra Modi’s tour of three Indian Ocean states this week, New Delhi will renew its commitment to the region.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be on a three-nation trip this week which will take him to the Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka – three key Indian Ocean island nations. There were suggestions that the prime minister will be visiting Maldives as well but it was dropped from the itinerary after the arrest and incarceration of the country’s first democratically elected president and current opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed in an expression of India’s disapproval of these moves. Indian Prime Minister is likely to step up his nation’s military and civilian assistance to the Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka during his visit in an effort to balance China’s growing imprint in the region, which has built highways, power plants, and seaports in these small island nations. India envisages its role as a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region and towards that end it is providing patrol ships, surveillance radars and ocean mapping for the island states.
The visit of the Indian Prime Minister to the nation’s maritime neighbors is reflective of India’s desire to shore up its profile in the Indian Ocean region, a region long considered India’s backyard but where New Delhi’s influence has been eroding slowly but steadily. China has extended a quiet challenge to India’s preeminence in South Asia through diplomatic and aid efforts directed at the small island nations dotting the Indian Ocean. While China, Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asian nations fight over specks of islands and reefs in East and South China Sea, mainly because of undersea resources, islands in the Indian Ocean are emerging as a new focus for struggle between China and India.
China has also been busy forging special ties with island nations on India’s periphery including Sri Lanka, Seychelles and Mauritius. China’s attempt to gain a foothold in the Indian Ocean came into view in 2012 when reports emerged of an offer from Seychelles – a strategically located island nation in the Indian Ocean – to China for a base to provide relief and resupply facilities to the People’s Liberation Army Navy. Though promptly denied by Beijing, the offer underscored the changing balance of power in the region. India has traditionally been the main defense provider for Seychelles – providing armaments and training to its Peoples’ Defense Forces, or SPDF. India extended a $50 million line of credit and $25 million grant to Seychelles in 2012 in an attempt to cement strategic ties. The Indian Navy has also been making regular forays into the island nation’s surrounding waters.