A Fruitful Indian Ocean Yatra

A Fruitful Indian Ocean Yatra


Wednesday, 18th March 2014

By Satish Chandra

Narendra Modi’s visit to Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka has not only bolstered India’s ties with these countries but has also signalled that India intends to pursue a more active policy in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).

Before setting out, Modi made known that the IOR was “vital for India’s security and progress” and that India attached “paramount importance” to strengthening relations with the countries. It was, however, in Mauritius whilst speaking on the occasion of the commissioning of offshore patrol vessel Barracuda, that he enunciated his vision for the region aimed at promoting security and growth for all by fostering greater cooperation and using India’s capabilities. Elaborating on this, he made the following points:

India, while defending its interests and safeguarding its mainland and islands, will equally work to “ensure a safe, secure and stable” IOR.

India will intensify its economic and security cooperation with friends in the region and build their maritime security capacities and economic strength.

Peace and security in the region could be best advanced through cooperation and collective action. Accordingly, India’s goal is to deepen mutual understanding on maritime challenges; and strengthen the collective ability to address them. India will, therefore, support the strengthening of regional mechanisms for maritime cooperation in areas ranging from addressing piracy to disaster management.

IOR must seek a “more integrated and cooperative future... that enhances the prospects for sustainable development for all”. It must promote greater collaboration in trade, tourism and investment; infrastructure development; marine science and technology; sustainable fisheries; protection of marine environment; and, overall development of the ocean or blue economy. It must also call for a more concerted and fair global action to address climate change.

While the primary responsibility for peace, stability and prosperity rests with those within IOR, others naturally also have interests in it and accordingly India is engaging with them. India’s 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; and increase in maritime cooperation”.

Modi’s vision constitutes an inflexion point in India’s IOR policy which promises to be more robust and is a perfect riposte to China’s hegemonic designs. Our approach as articulated by Modi scores over China. While the development activities offered by China like those related to the maritime silk route are fashioned autonomously by it for its own narrow strategic interests those offered by India are in a cooperative, altruistic and mutually beneficial mode where even regional mechanisms  have a role. Above all, the Indian approach is inclusive and, unlike China, fully respectful of international maritime rules.

A concerted effort to turn the above vision into reality was in evidence during Modi’s visit to Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka.

Modi’s Seychelles visit is something of a landmark as he is the first Indian PM to go there since Indira Gandhi in 1981. Security and development were the dominant themes of the visit with Modi saying the security partnership between the nations was “strong” and president Michel asserting that both had a “shared interest” in the security of the ocean. Modi gifted a Dornier aircraft, launched a coastal surveillance radar project and invited Seychelles to be a full partner in maritime security cooperation with India, Maldives and Sri Lanka. Mauritius was also similarly invited. Agreements were concluded for the development of infrastructure on the island of Assumption as well as for undertaking a hydrographic survey. It was also agreed to set up a joint working group to expand cooperation on the blue economy that will enormously increase our understanding of marine ecology and resources. India also committed $75 million in credits and grants to Seychelles for use in accordance with its priorities.

In Mauritius, too, security and development topped the agenda. In his press conference Modi said both nations had a shared interest in a safe and secure Indian Ocean and a stable and prosperous IOR. He added that security cooperation was the “cornerstone” of their strategic partnership and that India was honoured to be the “preferred partner” of Mauritius in developing security capabilities. Modi’s visit witnessed the signing of MOUs for the establishment and upgrade of facilities for air and sea connectivity between Agalega island and the rest of the nation and for cooperation to develop the ocean economy. India also provided a $500 million concessional credit for infrastructure development, offered to set up a second cyber city, and to build a petroleum storage and bunkering facility.

Modi’s Sri Lanka visit was full of symbolism but also had substantive content. It was not lost on anyone that his was the first Indian standalone prime ministerial visit since 1987 and the first visit by an Indian PM to Jaffna. More importantly it followed close on the heels of president Sirisena’s visit to India and demonstrated the intent in both nations to place the relationship on an upward trajectory. Addressing the parliament, Modi asserted India-Sri Lankan security was “indivisible” and that India “deeply valued” security cooperation. He urged the trilateral maritime security cooperation between India, Sri Lanka and Maldives be extended to others in the IOR. It was also decided to set up a joint task force on ocean economy. With Lanka IOC and CPC agreeing to the joint development of the upper tank farm in Trincomalee, India indicated its readiness to help Trincomalee become a petroleum hub. It also evinced interest in the Sampur Coal Power Project, promised a $318 million line of credit primarily for rail projects and offered a $1.5-billion currency swap.

On the Tamils issue while making a strong pitch for empowerment of local bodies and regions, Modi skilfully coupled it with the assertion that for India Sri Lanka’s unity and integrity was “paramount”. Sadly, there was little progress on the fishermen issue. Indian fishermen are clearly poaching in Lankan waters. It is up to us to prevent them from so doing perhaps by incentivising them to engage in deep sea fishing.

The only fly in the ointment in Modi’s Indian Ocean Yatra was the cancellation of his visit to the Maldives. This was unavoidable as a visit would not have been appropriate in view of the unjustified incarceration of former president Nasheed and the resulting disturbances.

The writer is a former deputy National Security Adviser,Government of India.

Email: satchand18@gmail.com

From : http://www.newindianexpress.com/columns/A-Fruitful-Indian-Ocean-Yatra/2015/03/18/article2718469.ece

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