Amid the unfolding great game in the Indian Ocean and China’s increased assertiveness in the region, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads on a three-nation diplomatic odyssey to key littoral states, including Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka.
It’s a first of sorts as the Indian prime minister travels to three oceanic neighbours which are bound to India by history, shared culture and extensive defence ties.
Maritime Security: Oceanic Neighbours
Maritime security will be the overarching theme of Mr Modi’s three-nation visit as he seeks to bolster maritime cooperation with the three countries, which are crucial in India’s strategic scheme to secure sea lanes of communication (SLOC) in the Indian Ocean against attacks by pirates and terrorists. The SLOC in the Indian Ocean ferry over 70 per cent of India’s energy imports, and are therefore critical to the nation’s energy security.
Flagging off the trip, India’s Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, who will also be accompanying Prime Minister Modi on the trip, underlined the importance of the prime ministerial visit to “three of our immediate ocean neighbours.” “These are ocean economies which offer new possibilities of cooperation,” he said, adding that India enjoys substantive goodwill in these countries.
Why Seychelles & Mauritius
Mr Modi kicks of his trip with less than a 24-hour visit to Seychelles March 10-11, the strategically located archipelago nation which is better known for its enchanting natural beauty and a luxury holiday destination preferred by besotted honeymooners. India’s long-standing friend, Seychelles President James Alix Michel, will engage in wide-ranging talks with the Indian leader and host a banquet for him. The highlight of the Seychelles trip will be the formal operationalization of India-assisted Coastal Radar Surveillance System that will augment capacity of the Seychelles People’s Defence Force in surveillance of the Exclusive Economic Zone of 1.3 million square kms.
In Mauritius, where 70 per cent of the population comprises Persons of Indian Origin, the focus will be again on buttressing maritime security cooperation and expanding developmental partnership. Mr Modi will be the chief guest at the National Day celebrations on March 12, the historic day that marks the launch of the salt satyagraha movement by Mahatma Gandhi. Prime Minister Modi will also address the National Assembly in Port Louis, a signature speech that is expected to lay out a long-term vision for India-Mauritius relations.
Sri Lanka will be the last leg of the prime minister’s Indian Ocean yatra, but it will be perhaps the most important diplomatic engagement that will have major ramifications for bilateral relations as well as the security of the region. Significantly, this will be the first prime ministerial visit from India to the island nations in close to three decades. Rajiv Gandhi last visited Colombo in 1987.
Mr Modi has a packed agenda in Sri Lanka, which includes back-to-back meetings with the top Sri Lankan leadership and the political class. Mr Modi’s talks with Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena are expected to focus on a host of pressing issues, including the reconciliation process in the island nation, intensification of trade and investment and scaling of developmental partnership. We will encourage the political reconciliation process in Sri Lanka, said Mr Jaishankar, adding that Mr Modi will also be meeting the leaders of the Tamil National Alliance and other Tamil parties in the island nation.
Some of key highlights of Mr Modi’s Sri Lanka trip includes an address to the parliament, a visit to Jaffna where the Culture Centre will be inaugurated, and a trip to Anuradhapura, an ancient World Heritage site. Development partnership will be in focus when Mr Modi hands over some of the houses built by India in Jaffna to IDPs –- India had pledged to build 50,000 houses for IDPs, and has managed to construct 27,000 units so far.
Geopolitics: China Factor
The prime minister’s outreach to the country’s Indian Ocean neighbours will be closely watched in the region. Beijing will be specially watching the outcomes emerging from these summit meetings as it has relentlessly expanded its economic ties and influence in the Indian Ocean littoral countries New Delhi thinks to be falling in its sphere of influence.
But as Indian diplomats point out, India is not in a containment game, but is only looking to project the Indian Ocean as zone of peace and an ocean of opportunity through a closer web of economic and transport connectivity projects. With this soaring vision on mind, Mr Modi’s overarching focus will be on firming up pathways of maritime cooperation to ensure peace and stability in the Indian Ocean region and the joint development of blue economy that is so critical to India’s national security and energy interests.
(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network, www.indiawrites.org, an e-magazine-journal focused on international affairs and the India Story. He is also Editor of Two Billion Dreams: Celebrating India-Africa Friendship, a book that captures myriad facets of the India-Africa partnership)
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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