With China on his mind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to flag off an ambitious maritime security and defence cooperation plan for the Indian ocean region during his three-nation trip to Seychelles, Mauritius and Sri Lanka beginning March 10.
The plan is driven by defence support — like giving patrol vessels, capacity building, expanding the trilateral (India-Maldives-Sri Lanka) friendship exercise to include Seychelles and Mauritius and other measures to firm up maritime security cooperation.
“Some of these plans are long-term. Some others will be outcome of the visit. The underlying theme of the visit is sending a signal that countries of the region should work together to meet security needs of the Indian ocean,” said a source.
Some of the expected outcomes of the visit include the comisssioning of an Indian-built patrol vessel in Mauritius, a patrol vessel for Sri Lanka and increased cooperation to combat piracy. Sources insist that Maldives being dropped from the PM’s itinerary is not a ‘big concern’ as the two countries have been working together on the issues of maritime security.
China’s growing military influence in Seychelles, Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Maldives is a cause of concern for India. China sees Seychelles as a potential resupply port for its navy ships and one of its submarines.
Meanwhile, many measures on maritime security cooperation that India has on bilateral and sub-group levels being worked on to give a Pan-Indian ocean approach to signal India’s growing interest in the Indian ocean. These include: Maritime Domain Awareness, Long Range Identification and Tracking, Merchant Ship Information System and Automatic Identification System.
PM Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka will be the first bilateral visit by an Indian PM since Rajiv Gandhi’s trip to the island nation in 1987.