India Reaches Out To Indian Ocean Partners

Indian Foreign Minister Dr. S Jaishankar went on a four-day visit to the Maldives and Mauritius February 20-23. The minister held high-level meetings in both countries, including with the defense and foreign ministers.

India in recent years has stepped up strategic outreach to its Indian Ocean partners. Both the Maldives and Mauritius have been key in pursuing India’s maritime security agenda.

The detailed joint statement issued at the end of the visit is an indicator of the breadth and depth of the bilateral ties between India and the Maldives. Recalling the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the foreign ministers “reaffirmed their commitment to further deepening and strengthening the relationship, and exploring new areas of cooperation.”

India had earlier offered assistance to eight major infrastructure projects, of which the contract for construction of roads and drainage systems in Addu City.

The ministers also reviewed other projects including the Hanimaadhoo Airport expansion, the construction of water and sanitation infrastructure on 34 islands, and the National College of Policing and Law Enforcement Studies in Addu City.

Mauritius was the second leg of Jaishankar’s four-day Indian Ocean trip. In addition to signing the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (CECPA), which is India’s first such agreement with an African nation, India and Mauritius also signed an agreement that will provide Mauritius with a Dornier aircraft and an advanced light helicopter (the Indian-built Dhruv) on a gratis loan basis for two years.

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Indian Ocean region (IOR)

The Indian Ocean region (IOR)  is one of the most crucial trade corridors that links the Middle East, Europe, Africa, South Asia, and Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Indian Ocean is “[h]ome to nearly 2.7 billion people … carrying half of the world’s container ships, one third of the world’s bulk cargo traffic, and two thirds of the world’s oil shipments.

India has a vital interest in the Indian Ocean, and as one of the IOR’s most prominent resident naval powers, its role in the IOR has been critical to maintaining peace and security. As China continues to expand its engagements and presence across the IOR, Delhi is beginning to review its maritime engagements and policies.3 Much of Delhi’s advantage is rooted in geography and operational experience, whereas it suffers from serious capacity constraints.

India’s Current Approach

The Indian Navy lists the following choke-points as its primary areas of interest, which highlights the need to control and deny these access points to an adversary in times of a conflict:

  • Malacca and Singapore Straits: link the IOR to the South and East China Seas and the Western Pacific.
  • Indonesian straits of Sunda, Lombok, and Ombai Wetar serve as alternate routes to the Indian Ocean from the Pacific Ocean and an especially critical route for submarines, which can transit submerged and undetected.
  • Strait of Hormuz: connects the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman in the Middle East to the Arabian Sea, opening to the Indian Ocean.
  • Bab-el-Mandeb: connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, opening to the IOR.
  • Suez Canal: connects Europe to Asia via the IOR.
  • Mozambique Channel: serves as an alternate route to the Suez Canal as well as for vessels transiting the Cape of Good Hope to Asia, Australia, and beyond. It is also strategically important for access and presence in the waters off the eastern coast of Africa.

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India’s Strategic Intent and Military Partnerships in the Indian Ocean Region

  • In the last five years, India has also established security partnerships with major IOR strategic stakeholders such as France and the United States.
  • India has increasingly invested in providing military training, weapons support and disaster relief assistance to “like-minded” states in the IOR.
  • Due to the potential risks of escalation to nuclear-weapons use should conflict occur with other countries in the region such as China and Pakistan, it would be in India’s interests to promote more confidence and security-building measures such as missile test-launch notifications and agreements to prevent incidents at sea.

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