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Centrality of Seychelles in SAGAR (India’s World: 11 April 2021)

Centrality of Seychelles in SAGAR (India’s World: 11 April 2021)

Context:

  • India formally handed over a Rs 100-crore patrol vessel to Seychelles, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying the island nation is central to India’s vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region. The Prime Minister said India is committed to strengthening the maritime security of Seychelles and will help develop the country’s security capabilities and meet its infrastructural and developmental needs.

Background:

  • In addition to the patrol vessel, Prime Minister Modi also jointly inaugurated with the President of Seychelles, a solar power plant, a court building, and 10 community development projects.

  • These projects were part of India's development assistance to the strategically located island nation.

  • India has so far taken up 29 small people-oriented development projects in Seychelles.

About the vessel:

  • The vessel, PS Zoroaster, is the fourth made-in-India patrol boat to be gifted to Seychelles since 2005.

  • The other vessels gifted by India include

    • PS Topaz in 2005

    • PS Constant in 2014

    • Patrol Boat Hermes in 2016

  • It is a 50-meter fast patrol vessel, built by Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineering at a cost of Rs 100 crores and has a top speed of 35 knots and an endurance of 1,500 nautical miles.

  • The vessel will be used for multi-purpose operations, such as patrolling, anti-smuggling and anti-poaching operations, and search and rescue.

Significance of Seychelles in India’s foreign policy:Centrality of Seychelles In SAGAR Informative Videos @ abhipedia Powered by  ABHIMANU IAS

  • Seychelles is very significant particularly in the maritime domain.

  • During the financial year 2018-19, India exported goods worth USD 84.49 million and imported goods worth USD 5.27 million from Seychelles.

  • Seychelles sits very close to the Mozambique Channel, Assumption Island for example, so its geographic location is very important for shipping coming from the cape of good hope down south towards the gulf.

  • The president of Seychelles is of Indian origin, he is from Gopalganj, Bihar.

  • The Seychelles government has leased the Assumption Island to the Indian Navy to build an overseas base of operations there.

How relationship with Seychelles has evolved since 1976:

  • Diplomatic ties with Seychelles were established after its independence in 1976.

  • The Seychelles had a long relationship with India, during the cold war they very closely paralleled India’s Non-aligned policy maintaining a close relationship with the Soviet Union and the United States at the same time.

  • It is ruled by a socialist party for much of its early history.

  • There is a fairly large Indian diaspora, about 10 percent of the Seychelles are of Indian origin and a further 10,000 people (This is a country of 1,00,000 people) are Indian citizens who work there mainly in the tourism industry.

  • The first Indian patrol boat was given to them in 2005 by the Indian government.

  • India built their Coastal Radar System a few years ago.

  • When Prime Minister Modi made his first Indian Ocean tour in 2015, the first country he went was Seychelles.

  • It's one of India’s largest recipients, India is one of the largest providers of aid to Seychelles.

  • India built 1 megawatt solar power project at Romainville Island of Seychelles built at a cost of $3.4 million by India.

  • India helps and represent them in international fora on things like climate change because they're very nervous about the rising sea water level.

  • The 50 percent of the air and maritime assets and 70 percent of capacity building in the Seychelles is of Indian origin, it's with help from India.

  • The first African country to which India sent 50,000 doses of the COVISHIELD which our prime minister rightly called the Made in India vaccine was Seychelles.

  • India is also working closely with the French, Seychelles was a former French colony, it's a francophone nation, they are French speakers and have always continued and continue to have a very close relationship with France.

Major concern:

  • The biggest concern that we've had recently was in 2016-17, India negotiated building the joint project and joint usage for both the Seychelles navy and the Indian navy on Assumption Island which is the southernmost of the Seychelles islands and that was opposed strongly among Seychelles political system partly because they believed it was breaking their non-aligned tradition.

  • There was some evidence that the Chinese also helped fund some of that opposition.

  • So, India had to pull back from that agreement in 2018 but it was frozen, it remains in place the agreement hasn't changed.

  • We were perhaps a little too hasty in the first original plan in 2017, we probably should have said it's a civilian port, not put it out as a military one and there was a little too much boasting on the Indian side especially the media and the think tank circles in 2017 before the deal was actually finalized and cleared by the Seychelles parliament. This caused a lot of alarm in Seychelles and so eventually the parliament moved to stop it.

  • There is nervousness among a lot of smaller countries that they don't want to get caught in a larger battle between two larger countries.

Importance of Indian Ocean:

  • Alfred Mahan had made a prophetical observation that whoever controls the Indian Ocean dominates Asia.

  • A book by Robert D. Kaplan called Monsoon, he talks about the historic importance of the Indian ocean in world history.

  • When China and India had 50 of the world's GDP, the Indian Ocean was the pivotal ocean in the entire world that's why the Arabs and the Portuguese were in contest over the sea lanes around the Indian ocean till the Portuguese found the alternate route.

  • All that fight was about the control of the sea lanes of communication.

  • The 64 percent of oil trade and 50 percent of carrier traffic goes through the Indian Ocean and 40 percent of the world's offshore petroleum is in the old Indian Ocean.

Complexity that the Chinese factor adds to this region:

  • China is a huge challenge and they are deploying submarines in so-called humanitarian operations of the coast of Africa.

  • The Chinese and the Indians in terms of the symbolism and the presence and the level of help they have given are stride they are side by side, for example, India built the magistrates court which is next to the Supreme Court building that was built by the Chinese.

  • China is a present challenge to India, the same thing that the Americans did the other day, the Chinese tried to do off the coast of the Andaman and Nicobar islands several years ago. A Chinese server ship intruded into our exclusive economic zone very close to the islands and had to be chased away even the Chinese acknowledged that perhaps there should have been some conversation with India before that ship came there.

Way Forward:

  • We needed to build up a greater degree of public support for India not just do it at a government-to-government level but work with the public of Seychelles so, they understand how that we are genuinely a friend and we're not really interested in making them part of a giant geopolitical battle in the Indian ocean, though we would like to make us their dominant security partner in the region.

  • Seychelles is more or less similar to the closest to the Mauritians in many ways given their long history with us and the fact that they still don't have much of a Chinese presence. So, it's very important for us to succeed with them.

  • If India has to continue to have a pivotal position, we need to have partnerships, because we can't do it alone, we don't have the naval capacity or the overall capacity to do it alone, therefore we have the QUAD.

  • There are a number of many littoral Indian ocean countries which we do not have almost any relationship at all and we need to start building them, Madagascar for example, the single largest island in the Indian ocean. We have minimal diplomatic relationship with them, it's there but it's not very strong and it's something we're now beginning to invest in.

  • We've now built an enormous relationship with Mozambique but we don't necessarily have a particularly strong one surprisingly with Tanzania where Chinese influence is much greater than ours.

  • India had almost no military relationship with most of the African countries. We didn't even have embassies, we had barely a half of Africa, and there was no Indian embassy even though their president was visiting India.

  • We have to recognize that china's influence is still much smaller than ours in the Indian Ocean but the Belt Road Initiative, Chinese permanent naval presence in the Indian Ocean, at least two bases Gwadar and Djibouti are already in existence and they're looking for an even larger one because they need one for their carriers.

Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR)

  • SAGAR is a term coined by PM Modi in 2015 during his Mauritius visit with a focus on the blue economy.

  • It is a maritime initiative which gives priority to the Indian Ocean region for ensuring peace, stability and prosperity of India in the Indian Ocean region.

  • Through SAGAR, India seeks to deepen economic and security cooperation with its maritime neighbours and assist in building their maritime security capabilities.

  • It is in line with the principles of the Indian Ocean Rim Association.

  • The goal is to seek:

    • A climate of trust and transparency

    • Respect for international maritime rules and norms by all countries

    • Sensitivity to each other`s interests

    • Peaceful resolution of maritime issues

    • Increase in maritime cooperation.

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