India is preparing to construct a significant overseas military base on an island in Seychelles, an archipelago of 115 islands in the Indian Ocean, off East Africa to counter growing Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean.
Last month, Seychelles and India signed a twenty-year agreement, permitting the Indian military to build an airbase and naval installations on Assumption Island, a small island in the Outer Islands of Seychelles north of Madagascar, said Seychelles News Agency.
“This [agreement] reinforces our commitment to not only further deepen India-Seychelles relations, but to also take our partnership to another level,” Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said in a statement.
“The [mutual] co-operation is exemplified by the operationalization of the Coastal Surveillance Radar System [CSRS] in March 2016, and our commitment to augment the defense assets and capability of Seychelles,” he added.
The agreement enhances India’s military capabilities and maritime surveillance of Seychelles’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 1.37 million square km. Assumption Island will serve as a strategic staging area for the Indian military, as the island chain resides between crucial global shipping lanes.
This is key as in 2016 alone, “approximately 40 million barrels of oil per day — equivalent to just under half of the world’s total oil supply — traveled through Indian Ocean entry and exit points, including the Straits of Hormuz, Malacca, and Bab el-Mandeb,” said CNN.
The EIA classifies the region as a significant chokepoint for maritime transit of oil. More specifically, the EIA calculates roughly 5.8 million barrels per day travels directly by Seychelles, which then ultimately flows to the West. This would indicate India does not just recognize Seychelles as a critical part of its global energy security, but perhaps, India’s push to control the island is a proxy of Washington.
All estimates in million barrels per day. Includes crude oil and petroleum liquids. Based on 2016 data. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration
India has already provided Seychelles with military aircraft, helicopters, and naval boats. It has installed a coastal surveillance radar system on one of Seychelles’ islands to conduct intelligence gathering activities. Throughout the years, the waters around Seychelles have seen an abundance of Indian warships conducting anti-piracy patrols
Senior Indian naval officials have stated that the development of military installations on Seychelles is to offset China’s maritime Silk Road strategy in the Indian Ocean.
As CNN notes, India is attempting to better posture itself in the Indian Ocean despite its neighbor and long-standing rival China, who is already situated with military installations in the region.
Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, China’s naval reach has grown considerably, expanding far beyond its immediate coastline into areas not previously considered within its sphere of influence.
In July last year China established its first overseas military base in Djibouti, near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, among the world’s busiest shipping lanes and one of three crucial Indian Ocean arteries.
The strait, which is only 29 kilometers (18 miles) wide at its narrowest point, connects the Mediterranean Sea via the Suez Canal, and the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean beyond.
The opening of the Djibouti base was followed several months later by the country’s controversial acquisition of the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, just 22.2 kilometers (13.8 miles) by some estimates from the primary Indian Ocean sea lane that links the Malacca Straits to the Suez Canal.
Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Sydney, described the Hambantota deal — which saw Sri Lanka grant China a 99-year lease on the port to service some of the billions in debt it owes to Beijing — as part of a “determined strategy by China to extend its influence across the Indian Ocean at the expense of India.”
“That port then gives them not only a strategic access point into India’s sphere of influence through which China can deploy its naval forces, but it also gives China an advantageous position to export its goods into India’s economic sphere, so it’s achieved a number of strategic aims in that regard,” said Davis.
Indian military officials said Seychelles and Assumption Island are a powerful combination in extending the reach of India’s naval operations, which it intends to rotate aircraft and ships throughout the region.
“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.
As India fears encirclement by militarist China in the Indian ocean, it only leaves us to believe that these nuclear-armed neighbors could be headed for another military conflict. The last time this occurred it was the war of 1962, which India is making the needed preparations on Seychelles’ chain of islands that will ensure another defeat is not an option.