S Jaishankar, Doval reach out to Indian Ocean region

S Jaishankar in Seychelles, Doval in Colombo: India ups outreach to Indian Ocean region to counter China

Jaishankar is meeting newly installed Seychelles president, Ramkalawan whilst Doval met his Lankan and Maldivian counterparts over martime security

Ajit Doval and S Jaishankar. Credit: AFP and PTI Photos

With External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar visiting Seychelles and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval reaching Colombo for a trilateral meeting on maritime security with his Sri Lankan and Maldivian counterparts, India has stepped up its outreach to the Indian Ocean nations to stop them from moving closer to China.

Jaishankar called on Seychelles’s new President Wavel Ramkalawan in Victoria on Friday. They discussed India-Seychelles security cooperation and development partnership.

Ramkalawan took over as the new President of Seychelles after incumbent Danny Faure was voted out of the top office in the elections held last month. His ancestors had migrated from Bihar in India to Seychelles. The pastor-turned-politician earlier had two long stints as the leader of the Opposition in the parliament of the Indian Ocean nation – from 1998 to 2011 and from 2016 to 2020.

Jaishankar handed over to Ramkalawan a personal congratulatory message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Discussed our close security cooperation, strong development partnership and long-standing people-to-people contacts,” he posted on Twitter, after meeting the new Seychelles President. “Assured him that Seychelles had a particular priority, both under the Neighbourhood First policy and the SAGAR outlook. Look forward to further strengthening our ties under his leadership.”

Ramkalawan’s Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) party earlier stalled the ratification of an agreement erstwhile Faure Government had inked with New Delhi for allowing India to invest $ 550 million to build a naval facility at the Assumption Island of Seychelles. He continued to oppose the project during his campaign ahead of the presidential elections.

New Delhi, however, appears to be still not ready to give up hope for the project as the proposed facility on the Assumption Island of Seychelles will give the Indian Navy an edge in its outreach towards the Western Indian Ocean Region apart from keeping tabs on the shipping lanes in the vicinity of the island nation.

India is keen to set up the facility as a countermeasure to the military base China built in Djibouti, which is located on a global shipping point linking the Red Sea and the Suez Canal.

Meanwhile, Modi’s National Security Advisor Doval had a bilateral meeting with Major Gen (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne, Defence Secretary of Sri Lanka, in Colombo. They discussed “matters pertaining to the growing defence and security partnership between the two countries (India and Sri Lanka)” and agreed “on several steps to further strengthen the valuable cooperation between two countries which also contributes to peace and security in the region”, according to the High Commission of India in Colombo. Doval also had a separate bilateral meeting with Maldivian Defence Minister Mariya Didi and had detailed discussion on deepening bilateral partnership between the two nations in defence and security.

Doval, Gunaratne and Mariya Didi will hold a trilateral meeting on maritime security cooperation. The meeting is being held after six years and is being hosted by the Sri Lankan Government.

New Delhi is keen to step up maritime security cooperation with Maldives and Sri Lanka to counter China’s bid to build strategic assets in the neighbourhood of India and to spread its geo-strategic influence in the Indian Ocean region.