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India expands its military bases in the Indian Ocean?

According to reports, India is building a military facility in Agalega, Mauritius to challenge Chinese expansionism. Although the government has denied such claims but the $250m investment seems to say otherwise.

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According to an extensive investigative report by Al Jazeera, India is laying the groundwork of a naval military facility on North Agaléga Island, which is part of the island nation of Mauritius.

The purpose of this military base is to challenge Chinese expansionism since both countries are not on good terms.

Both Indian and Mauritian governments have declined such claims, however, documents and witness accounts Al Jazeera has obtained indicate the construction of various infrastructure purposed for military activities, especially surveillance.

“There is no agreement between Mauritius and India for the creation of a military base in Agalega,” Ken Arian, a communications adviser to Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said.

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India has claimed that the new facilities are part of Modi’s 2016 vision for the Indian Ocean, articulated as the Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) policy, which aims to increase maritime cooperation between countries in the region. Mauritius, on the other hand, has claimed that its coastguard personnel will use the facilities.

It is still unclear why India would invest as much as $250m in developing an airfield, port, and communications hub for Mauritius if it’s not going to be used as a military facility. Regardless of India’s justifications, it is evident that the true motivator behind this expansion is the constant threat from China.

Military expansion

According to reports, India is building a port at the north end of the island which includes accommodation for up to 430 Indian workers and it is assumed that these buildings will be retained and repurposed once construction concludes.

And Agaléga is not the only Indian Ocean Island modified for military use. Military facilities on India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the northeastern Indian Ocean, at the junction of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, were also enhanced to better support India’s patrol aircraft missions.

India has recently sought to further develop its military access to the south-west Indian Ocean and Mozambique Channel by building a new naval and air facility on Seychelles’ remote Assumption Island.

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In 2015, Modi signed an agreement with the Seychelles President to develop Assumption Island for military use. But the deal generated considerable political opposition in the Seychelles.

A revised deal was signed in 2018, but the recently elected Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan has canned the project over sovereignty and environmental concerns.

Considering the rising Chinese influence in Indian Ocean, India has given particular emphasis to building closer economic, political & security relations with the ‘Four M’s’: Mauritius, Maldives, Madagascar & Mozambique to develop its security role in all four countries to control choke points of Indian Ocean Region.

India and Mauritius

India has long had a close security relationship with Mauritius, anchoring its prominent role in the south-west Indian Ocean. The relationship is bolstered by ethnic ties and a shared Hindu religion with many Mauritians.

This has led critics to describe Mauritius as the “Little India” of the south-west Indian Ocean – evidenced in part by Indian funding of major infrastructure projects, and provision of lines of credit. Indian officials also occupying some key security positions in the Mauritian government, including the roles of National Security Advisor and head of the Mauritius Coast Guard. Mauritius is one of the main routes for foreign direct investment (FDI) into India.

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India sought access to the islands in 2015 to develop as an air and naval staging point for surveillance of the south-west Indian Ocean – in a sense redolent of facilities other nations operate, such as the joint US-UK base at Diego Garcia.

North Agalega Island is some 12 kilometers long and 1.5 kilometers wide, with a total population of fewer than 300 people. Until recently, it was virtually cut off from the world, but with these new developments, it might become a very important area soon.