The Narendra Modi government in India is desperately trying to increase pressure on China amid the continuing stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops near the Sikkim-Tibet-Bhutan tri-junction.
For almost a month, Armies of the two countries have been docked at Doklam – a narrow plateau, lying in the tri-junction. The disputed territory, claimed by both Bhutan and China, is situated roughly 15km from the Nathu La pass that separates India and China. India, which deployed soldiers in Doklam early in June in order to stop the construction of a road by the Chinese Army, claimed that the Chinese action has security implications for the South Asian country. On the other hand, Beijing accused the Indian Army of violating an 1890 border agreement between Britain and China, insisting that no dialogue could take place till the Indian troops are pulled back. The excitement is increasing constantly.
In such a situation, Prime Minister Modi has held a long meeting with his National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. It has been decided that India will try to increase pressure on China, apart from making efforts to resolve the issue through peaceful negotiation. According to sources close to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), the Indian Army has been instructed to set up tents at Doklam and to be prepared for ‘anything’. The Modi government also decided to send more troops to the border area, if necessary. New Delhi even established a line for supplying food and other necessary materials to the Army deployed in Doklam.
India has further decided to increase its strategic presence in the southern part of Indian Ocean. According to diplomatic sources, New Delhi recently purchased two (comparatively peaceful) green islands in Mauritius and Seychelles, with the Modi government planning to set up airfields and harbours there. India is basically trying to build military bases on those islands in order to counter China’s strategy to monitor its southern neighbour’s activities through the ‘String of Pearls’ – a geopolitical theory on potential Chinese intentions in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). It refers to the network of Chinese military and commercial facilities and relationships along its sea lines of communication, which extend from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan.
The geographic locations of Seychelles’ ‘Assumption Island’ and ‘Agaléga Islands’ of Mauritius are strategically very important, as two-thirds of the world’s vessels, which carry petroleum products, use this route. India is well aware of the fact that China is trying hard to increase its influence in the IOR in order to ensure a steady economic growth. So, the Modi administration is concentrating on the two islands, which are close to the important transit point of oil coming from West Asia. In recent past, Beijing (too) increased the number of its naval fleet in this region, apart from setting up bases in the Maldives.
In 2016, American intelligence agencies informed India that China was building military bases on several Indian Ocean islands, including some in Seychelles. Washington expressed serious concern over the development, as the US also has military bases in Diego Garcia, Mauritius. Although Britain controls the island, the base is under the control of America. In fact, there is an unwritten agreement between London and Washington in this regard. However, the Asian dragon has started increasing its influence there. China is setting up tourist centres in Mauritius on the basis of an agreement signed between Beijing and Port Louis.
India has decided to build ports in the exact same location in order to increase its naval strength there. Experts are of the opinion that India’s move will certainly trigger fresh tension in the IOR. Darshana Baruah, a junior fellow at New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, has explained: “The lack of trust on security and strategic issues between India and China is growing steadily. China is trying to increase its presence in the Indian Ocean. India’s own response to an increasing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean has been to revive its maritime partnerships and build new ties across the Indo-Pacific.” The impact of the Sino-Indian rivalry can be felt in any part of the world, she said.
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