By C. Raja Mohan, Indian Express, July 16, 2012
The weekend’s visit to Seychelles by a top People’s Liberation Army official marks the deepening of the military relationship between the tiny Indian Ocean island state, and China.
The Deputy Chief of the People’s Liberation Army, Gen Ma Xiaotian met with President of Seychelles James Michel on Saturday and reaffirmed China’s commitment to deepen bilateral military cooperation.
Although Seychelles has close military and naval cooperation with India and the United States, it has been quite open to Beijing’s military overtures.
Since the Chinese President Hu Jintao visited this strategically located Indian Ocean Island state in 2005, Beijing has made an all out effort to deepen the partnership with Seychelles.
That China had a military and strategic interest in wooing the island was not difficult to see in Delhi and Washington. Straddling the sealanes between Africa and China, Seychelles has acquired a critical importance in the Beijing’s expanding naval profile in the Indian Ocean.
Since 2010, Chinese naval ships have been making frequent port calls in Seychelles. China has also transferred two Y-2 turboprop aircraft to Seychelles to facilitate the maritime surveillance of its massive 1. 37 sq km of exclusive economic zone in the Indian Ocean.
Last December, after the first ever visit by a Chinese defence minister to the island nation, Seychelles announced that it is to provide resupply facilities for Chinese naval ships operating in the Indian Ocean.
China, however, sought to downplay the announcement from Port Victoria. While confirming interest in acquiring much needed resupply facilities in the Indian Ocean, the foreign office in Beijing insisted “China has no plans for establishing military bases abroad.”
While Beijing is keen to prevent any hostile regional reaction to its growing military presence in the Indian Ocean, those who study Chinese military strategy see the inevitability of Beijing acquiring naval bases and military facilities in the Indian Ocean.
They point to the fact that many Western powers through the last few centuries had established bases in the Indian Ocean. As one of the world’s largest trading nations and a rising military power, the analysts argue, China is bound set up a permanent naval base in the Indian Ocean in the not too distant future.
In the last few years, India has stepped up its interaction with Seychelles. President Michel has visited India three times in the last two years and many India’s leaders, including President Pratibha Patil, have traveled to Seychelles.
Although India’s defence cooperation with Seychelles has significantly expanded in recent years, it is not clear if Delhi is really prepared to cope with China’s high stakes naval diplomacy in the Indian Ocean.
Courtesy: Indian Express