With an eye to curtail China’s misadventures in the Indian Ocean Region, the Union government spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is sending its trusted lieutenant S Jaishankar, the External Affairs Minister (EAM) to the tiny island country of Seychelles from 27th to 28th November to meet the newly appointed leadership of the state.
The Seychelles opposition has won an election for the first time since 1977 and the new person to assume the office of President—Wavel Ramkalawan is of Indian origin and the EAM meeting him is being closely monitored by the domain experts.
“EAM will call-on the newly elected President of Seychelles H.E. Mr. Wavel Ramkalawan to present greetings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and discuss with him the priorities of the new Government and avenues for further strengthening India-Seychelles bilateral relations.” a statement from the Ministry of External Affairs said.
It was because of the concerns of Seychelles and India’s reassertion of the Indian Ocean Region from the slow encroachment by Communist China that Prime Minister Narendra Modi tried to align the Island country with India and the naval facility would have been the tool. But even after the announcement and signing of initial pact back in 2015 during PM Modi’s Seychelles visit, the then opposition Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS), led by Ramkalavan, opposed it vociferously and stalled the project.
Reported earlier by TFI, some analysts and observers have cast aspersions that the election victory of the opposition is bad news, as, in the past, they had opposed the $550 million Indian investment to build a naval facility on the Assumption Island which was to be used by both India and Seychelles.
However, being in opposition and making sweeping remarks to oppose central leadership has often been the trend that most opposition parties seem to follow in and around the democracies across the globe. And given the Chinese expertise in debt diplomacy, the Wavel Ramkalawan’s government is expected to tread a more responsible path than what many analysts in New Delhi would want to believe. Thus, one can expect the new leadership of Seychelles to drop its hard-to-get-by act.
New Delhi is setting the platform to bring Seychelles in its fold just the way it had done with Sri Lanka. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the current Prime Minister of Sri Lanka who was the President back in 2015 had also grown close to China and allowed Xi Jinping to drop CCP’s anchors in the island nation. Slowly and gradually, China began to encroach upon the entirety of the country and the infamous handover of the Hambantota port to Beijing is still fresh in the public’s memory which caused even the staunchest of pro-China voices like Rajapaksa to take a volta-face.
China had been looking to interact with countries like Sri Lanka and the Maldives in the region to pursue its ‘String of Pearls’ strategy, in a bid to encircle India in the crucial maritime region. As a result, it had even gained significant influence in both the island countries but being the good Samaritan neighbour stood its ground and gave its unflinching backing to these small nations even when they were knee-deep in Chinese troubles.
It was disdain for China’s abhorrent debt-trap diplomacy that Rajapaksa called and visited India earlier this year after being elected as the Prime Minister. Rajapaksa’s New Delhi outreach after coming into power showed that the two countries had overcome all insecurities and misunderstandings and were now looking to explore the possibilities of forging renewed strategic ties.
It is important to mention here that the Rajapaksa brothers are currently ruling Colombo together and Mahinda Rajapaksa has a lot of sway over how his brother—President Gotabaya Rajapaksa operates owing to the former’s lengthy political career. And therefore by bringing Mahinda under its fold —New Delhi automatically ensured that Gotabaya was also on the same side.
It was India that had helped the Maldives to defuse the China debt-trap bomb by extending a half-a-billion dollars Line of Credit. The response from the archipelago was that of jubilation as Former President Mohammed Nasheed, who is now President Solih’s advisor tweeted a heartfelt message to show his gratitude towards India. He also took a sly dig at China which had been bleeding the country dry with shark-loans.
The super low cost development assistance announced by @DrSJaishankar today is exactly what Maldives needs. Genuine help from a friend, to help us build critical infrastructure. Rather than eye-wateringly expensive commercial loans that leaves the nation mired in debt. @PMOIndia
— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) August 13, 2020
To win the hearts in Seychelles—India had even sent aid under mission Sagar 1 to the island country to get over the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, New Delhi is also engaged in building a number of infrastructure projects in the country. These include the Attorney General’s Office, the Secretariat building, Police Headquarters, and a State of the art Convention Centre for Seychelles.
S Jaishankar’s visit is bound to change the calculations of the region and Beijing will surely be keeping a hawk-like eye on the proceedings.