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Need to bolster ties with Seychelles

Need to bolster ties with Seychelles
Highlights

After the low in relations with Maldives, India is now facing problems with the Seychelles on the naval base project at Assumption Island. President Danny Faure, ahead of his visit to India, said the joint project with New Delhi to develop a naval base at Assumption Island \"will not move forward.’

After the low in relations with Maldives, India is now facing problems with the Seychelles on the naval base project at Assumption Island. President Danny Faure, ahead of his visit to India, said the joint project with New Delhi to develop a naval base at Assumption Island "will not move forward.’

New Delhi sought a clarification from Seychelles President as it wants to know the intent behind the statement. Seychelles funding its own coast guard facility is, per se, not an issue. India has other plans. It does not want to be kept out of such a project as it is vital to its own interests.

The deal originally was envisaged as a 20-year agreement that the country sees as crucial to its strategic interests – particularly given China's growing influence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Strangely, Faure also told a news agency of his country that Assumption Island issue would not be on the agenda at all. Faure has been meeting Narendra Modi in the recent past.

He met him on the side lines of the International Solar Alliance Summit in Delhi in early March and at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in mid-April. But, Faure has his domestic compulsions, one may not forget.

Three years of negotiations had gone by into the agreement to develop infrastructure on the island. It is crucial for Seychelles to protect its maritime domain and it is key to India due to its strategic location in the Western periphery of the Indian Ocean.

So, it is important for India to know what is exactly in the mind of Seychelles vis-a-vis its future maritime security. Faure's problem is that he does not have majority in the Seychelles National Assembly which has to ratify any such pact. Several environmental concerns are being raised by civil society apart from the Opposition there. A lot of work has to go into convincing them before the government moves ahead.

India too has to be very patient with such deals. It cannot rush through them or try to force those on the neighbours. Though, the agreement was signed in 2015, the Indian side preferred to accommodate Seychelles concerns to an extent. The 2018 version of the draft agreement had the Indian envoy and Seychelles foreign secretary as co-chairs. The same template was decided for the joint working group too.

This latest 'No' comes three months of the modifications made. While the Assumption Island project is crucial to India, it has to be overly cautious to move it forward, as it is extremely crucial for the country. The two countries have an established relationship in defence and maritime security, through which India helps patrol the waters of Seychelles and gives equipment to the island nation's defence forces.

In recent years, India has agreed to help Seychelles map its hydrology reserves, launched a coastal surveillance radar project and boosted security cooperation with the nation. India must also be wary of the Chinese angle to it, if any. It is so, because China wants to expand its foot print on the Indian Ocean quickly and effectively. It is time for caution, not aggression.

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