In advancing a step further in influencing in the Indo-Pacific region, India signed a revised agreement with the Indian Ocean archipelago nation of Seychelles for the development, management, operation and maintenance of facilities on Assumption Island. The island will be leased to India and used by the Indian Navy for operating a naval base and airstrip.
Failure of the first agreement
The agreement was first signed in 2015 but did not receive the sanction of the Seychelles parliament by the previous president, James Michel. In August 2017 Faure said,
“We would like to relook at the agreement which does not have a legal statute on the Seychelles side. But for India, it has a legal statute. We have to go back to the drawing board.”
Foreign Secretary Jaishankar went to Seychelles in October to discuss amendments to the agreement. Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar and Seychelles Secretary of State Barry Faure on Saturday signed the revised agreement.
Following the signing of agreement, Jaishankar said,
“Relations with countries in the Indian Ocean Region and nurturing a climate of peace and stability are important cornerstones of India’s foreign policy. Our vision for the region is based on cooperation and collective action to tackle maritime security challenges.”
PM Modi’s approach to maritime cooperation
Jaishankar made a reference to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks during his visit to Seychelles in March 2015. Modi emphasized that India seeks for 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.
In addition, Jaishankar said,
“We seek a future for the Indian Ocean that lives up to the name of Sagar – an acronym that stands for Security and Growth for All in the Region. Sagar is an Indian initiative to have a positive effect on sea-borne trade.”
India and Seychelles: An old union
After taking on lease the Assumption Island, India began to prepare for infrastructure development. There is very little human activity in this area. India and Seychelles have had cooperation in the field of defense and maritime security. India has helped Seychelles in patrolling its waters and also presented several types of equipment for the Seychelles People’s Defence Forces (SPDF). Modi presented a second Dornier surveillance aircraft to the Seychelles Coast Guard to increase maritime security. The first Dornier India gifted to Seychelles was in 2013.
The agreement between India and Seychelles is in the course to visit and develop infrastructure on Assumption Island. Positioned at 1,140 km southwest of the mainland of Mahe, it is one of the 115 islands constituting Seychelles. This project is an attestation to the affinity between the two countries.
India and Seychelles have over the years built an elaborate architecture of defense and security cooperation, said Jaishankar.
“As two maritime neighbors, we have a stake in each other’s security and safety. Seychelles, with its Exclusive Economic Zone, spread over 1.3 million square km, is particularly vulnerable. Recognizing this, India and Seychelles have drawn up a cooperation agenda that covers within its purview shared efforts in anti-piracy operations, and enhanced EEZ surveillance and monitoring to prevent intrusions by potential economic offenders indulging in illegal fishing, poaching, drug and human trafficking.”
Interestingly, it is of global importance for Seychelles allowing India to develop military infra. Jaishankar said,
“In recognition of our strategic convergence in the Indian Ocean region, the agreement that we sign today is an important step forward in the further deepening of our cooperation in the spirit of our unique bilateral ties.”