Ties between the two large economically emerging nations dates back to 2,000 years. History stands testament to the fact that these two nations have been in a series of war and peace time and again. Whether it be relations between the Cholas or the Mahabharata having references of the Qin dynasty. These two nations have time and again been on and off of each others back and will continue to do so because of proximity and the want of emerging as world superpowers. The two nations being India and China.
The growing might of the Chinese Navy and its outreach to the Indian Ocean Region mainly with the motive of surrounding India from all sides to prove dominance in and around India is her concern. As for China and its “string of pearls”, India has effectively countered this strategy of a Chinese dominance around the Indian sub continent.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook a five-day tour of three Indian Ocean countries, displaying an active foreign policy intent after a long time. His visits were made to Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka, located strategically in the Indian Ocean region.
The island nation, strategically located when viewed in the context of sea lanes of communications, has long been an Indian ally. The last visit was by Indira Gandhi in 1981. Then Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Seychelles in 2007, which offered docking and berthing facilities for Chinese ships on anti-piracy operations. It was clearly past time to give the relationship a boost.
PM Modi started his visit by gifting a Dornier aircraft and agreements on cooperation in hydrography, renewable energy, infrastructure development, and the sale of navigation and electronic navigational charts were made.
The agreement to develop infrastructure on Assumption Island is of greater significance. The island development project provides an opportunity for India to place strategic assets in the Indian Ocean. PM Modi also launched a Costal Surveillance Radar Project.
Another country with which India has enjoyed decades of strong ties.
With PM Modi’s visit, the two sides have signed five bilateral agreements. India has also extended a $500 million of credit. The agreements cover the areas of ocean economy, cultural cooperation, the import of fresh mangoes from India, sea air transportation in the Agalega Islands, medicine, and homeopathy. Of greater significance is the proposed Indian assistance in developing the Agalega Islands.
Mauritius is among the largest sources of foreign direct investment in India. The two countries have agreed to fast-track the revision of their tax treaty. Misuse of the agreement has led to Mauritius becoming a favoured destination for hiding wealth. This is a tough issue for both nations to deal with.
Next on PM Modi’s itinerary was Sri Lanka, a far more difficult prospect. Relations only worsened with Rajapaksa’s strong tilt towards China. The last time an Indian prime minister visited Sri Lanka was in 1987.
Modi took up the challenge. The balancing act was seen throughout the visit. In his talks and statements at Colombo, the issues of accommodating “the aspirations of all sections of society, including the Sri Lankan Tamil community” were mentioned. He also spoke in favor of implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution, which guarantees a greater devolution of powers to Tamils, and urged new President Maithripala Sirisena to go beyond it.
Amongst bilateral agreements signed are a customs pact, a credit line for $300 million, visa-on-arrival for Sri Lankan passport holders, and a $1.5 billion currency swap agreement to help the island nation keep its currency stable.
The Indian prime minister also announced his country’s support for the idea of Trincomalee becoming a petroleum hub. Sri Lanka’s state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and the local subsidiary of Indian Oil Corporation would drive resources to India. These assets are definitely of strategic significance
For peace and progress in the region it’s important that the Indian Ocean remains a zone of peace. In fact, the purposes of all shareholders should be intact for shipping.
By giving these nations assurance, not only has PM Modi earned trust but also a strategic hold in the IOR which China was trying to exploit for its selfish gains.