India’s Seychelles military base plan hits choppy waters
India’s plans for building military facilities in Seychelles have hit choppy waters, with the Indian Ocean island’s political opposition blocking efforts to ratify a deal reached by the two governments.
This week, the opposition in Seychelles, led by Wavel Ramkalawan, declared the deal “dead”.
“I hope I have made it clear that this is the end of the Assumption agreement and that I don’t expect to see it on any agenda between President Faure and the opposition,” Ramkalawan said in the National Assembly on Tuesday.
The opposition coalition holds a majority of seats in the National Assembly, and the country’s law mandates that the agreement must be ratified by this body.
Asian power rivalry
“This agreement would potentially allow for a greater arc of surveillance to curb piracy and other illegal activities in the exclusive economic zone of Seychelles. It would also burnish India’s credibility as a collective security stakeholder,” Uday Bhaskar, retired Indian navy officer and defence expert, told Al Jazeera.
“It is clear that India wants to establish a military base in Assumption to monitor the traffic in the Mozambique channel in the Indian Ocean and to especially monitor the energy transport of China around the world,” Ralph Volcere, a political activist who has led demonstrations against the pact in Seychelles, told Al Jazeera.
“We know the rivalry between China and India to have influence over the Indian Ocean. The Chinese also wanted to build a base here, but we turned that down. Now we can’t have India station it’s military personnel in our country. It doesn’t matter if they are American or English or German – we don’t want foreign military personnel here.”
An email from Al Jazeera to the office of Seychelles president, Danny Faure, seeking details about the pact went unanswered.
Leaked pact details
Safeguards including a no-nuclear weapons use were included in the renegotiated pact that also prohibited India from using the base during war.
Following the leak, local news-media reports quoted President Faure as denying that land on Assumption Island was sold to India.
His government has since ordered a probe into the leak.
“Maybe the two governments should have made the text of the agreement available to the public. Secrecy has only roused suspicions that Seychelles interests will be harmed. But if you read the text of both the old and the new agreements, they are quite reasonable,” Manoj Joshi, a Delhi-based foreign policy analyst, told Al Jazeera.
Also earlier this month, Seychelles Vice President Vincent Meriton said the deal is “still in the conception phase, and there is no clear cost attributed to it at the moment. It will cover about a quarter of the remote island about 1,140 southwest of the Seychelles‘ main island of Mahe”.
India’s waning influence
“Look at our roads, our infrastructure. There’s popular demand for infrastructure investment,” Swarnim Wagle, a former member of the National Planning Commission of Nepal, wrote recently in the South China Morning Post.
“Our debt-GDP ratio is 22 percent. The average for low-income countries is 43 percent. We can raise borrowings substantially, but too much of internal borrowing crowds out the private sector. So there’ll be need to look at funds from outside, and China is a natural fit as it’s eager to invest abroad.”
‘Degree of discord’
The Indian and the Maldives foreign ministries traded barbs over an extension of the state of emergency in the country last month.
“India has traditionally had a very robust, empathetic relationship with the Indian Ocean island states. This is currently in some degree of review, and there has been a degree of discord,” Uday Bhaskar, the Indian defence expert, told Al Jazeera.
“But there have been protests in Sri Lanka about China‘s infrastructure projects as well. One can expect that there will be a degree of competition between India and China in the Indian Ocean Region over the next decade.”
Demonstrators carrying “Hands Off Assumption” placards have protested in the capital Victoria every Saturday since January.