EAM Jaishankar begins Seycelles visit, to focus on security, development cooperation
External affairs minister S Jaishankar on Friday began a two-day visit to Seychelles, part of India’s renewed focus on security and development cooperation with its Indian Ocean neighbours in the face of China’s aggression across the region.
Seychelles is the last leg of Jaishankar’s three-nation tour that also took him to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, and his main objective in the capital Victoria is to meet newly elected President Wavel Ramkalawan and present a letter from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Jaishankar is set to be the first senior foreign leader to meet Indian-origin Ramkalawan – who in October became the first opposition candidate to be elected president of the archipelago since 1977 – as Seychelles is under strict quarantine norms. Seychelles made a special exemption for the visit.
The visit coincides with Seychelles joining Bangladesh and Mauritius as observers for a meeting of the trilateral maritime security cooperation dialogue between India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka in Colombo. India is being represented at the talks, which are being held after a gap of six years, by National Security Adviser Ajit Doval.
“The meeting in Sri Lanka and the external affairs minister’s visit to Seychelles are part of efforts to ramp up security and development cooperation across the Indian Ocean, especially for maritime domain awareness,” said a person familiar with developments who declined to be named.
“The Indian side also wants to understand President Ramkalawan’s development priorities to strengthen bilateral cooperation. India has tried to broad-base its relationship through assistance in the form of grants and concessional loans,” the person said.
Though development cooperation will top the agenda – India is currently helping Seychelles build a new Government House, police headquarters and attorney general’s office at a total cost of almost $91 million – the Indian side is also expected to discuss the stalled move to build naval facilities on Assumption Island, located about 1,100 km from the main island of Mahe.
Though the two sides signed two agreements for this in 2015 and 2018, the construction couldn’t begin because of protests by Opposition parties. Ramkalawan had led the opposition to the project and political parties had refused to ratify the agreements despite the second one incorporating specific clauses to address concerns expressed by some quarters in Seychelles.
While China has provided two light aircraft and two warships and financed the building of Seychelles’ Parliament, India has gifted the archipelago three naval boats and two maritime surveillance aircraft and established six coastal radar stations.
Experts say such cooperation is crucial for patrolling the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Indian Ocean states and track the movement of vessels, including Chinese warships.