India, Sri Lanka and Maldives have formed a trilateral dialogue on maritime security at the national security adviser (NSA) level in the backdrop of China expanding its footprint in the Indian Ocean region.
The dialogue — an idea first mooted by Maldives — will deal with issues of maritime security, piracy, ensuring safety and security of sea-lanes, sharing of best practices and disaster management, senior government officials told HT.Far from the glare, the first meeting was held in Maldives last month and the next edition will be held in January next year.
"India, Maldives, and Sri Lanka have such dialogue bilaterally. Now, we are bringing together the synergies to make it a trilateral format," said an official, adding that the Indian Ocean was vital for the "safety, security and economic well-being of the three countries".
China has been developing port facilities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Strategic reasons apart, for China these countries provide both new markets and alternative routes to the Indian Ocean.
China now has a base in Seychelles to "seek supplies and recuperate" facilities for its Navy. Chinese naval fleets have re-supply facilities at harbours in Djibouti, Oman and Yemen since China joined the anti-piracy operation in Gulf of Aden in 2008.
China also has a contract with the UN backed International Seabed Authority to gain rights to explore polymetallic sulphide ore deposit in Indian Ocean over the next 15 years.
A lot of these interests intersect and overlap with that of India. Huge strategic implications apart, 97% of India's international trade by volume and 75% by value passes through the Indian Ocean.
India has been working very closely with the 19 Indian Ocean rim countries grouping, which it chairs for the next two years, on maritime security and other all-round cooperation among the member countries.