India Strives for Influence in the Indian Ocean
A. Vines & B. Oruitemeka | Chatham House | April 2008
The Indian Ocean will be a strategic bridgehead for the big players of the 21st century. This relates to the Indian sea doctrine, which has been determining India's policies in the region since its release in 2004. China's advance in particular is pushing the Indian government to strengthen its ties with the African countries on the coast of the Indian Ocean and to regain more influence in the region. A considerable share of India's trade and almost 89 percent of its oil imports are conducted by sea. The stability of these waters is therefore a high ranking economic priority and of prime importance for its security.
The Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) was founded as early as 1995. With 18 member states including India, Indonesia, South Africa and Australia, the IOR-ARC is a very promising platform for cooperation. Yet it is exclusively economic and has been lacking a political agenda. The Indian government has therefore promoted a trilateral development initiative in collaboration with Brazil and South Africa, the IBSA. This seemed to somewhat counter India's immediate priorities: the reform of the Security Council of the UN and the enlargement from the G8 to the G13 to include South Africa, Brasil, China, India and Mexico. But the harmony of the IBSA has been considerably unsettled. While South Africa supports China's appeal to be included in the dialogue forum on questions relating to economics, India's government strongly opposes it. As for Pakistan's aspiration to become a member of the Ocean Rim Association, this is also not met with approval.
The efforts of Pakistan and China to acquire more influence in the region are causing India to intensify relations to Mauritius, the Seychelles, Madagascar and the coastal states of Kenya, Mozambique and Tanzania on a bi-or trilateral level. In Madagascar in July 2007, India started running its first ever radar control system on foreign soil. In addition to this, India rented a piece of land for 2.5 million dollars in the north of Madagascar in order to follow the movement of ships with the newest digital interception techniques. As early as 2003, India and the Seychelles signed an agreement by which Indian warships took over the patrolling of the territorial waters of the Seychelles. This year, once again military exercises are planned on the water. Further, the Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. (IOC) announced a reinforced engagement in Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique last year. Additionally, the Indian government remitted much of Mozambique's and Tanzania's remaining debt. However, like before, Indians maintain their closest economic ties in the region with Mauritius, a country where presumably as much as 68 percent of the population is of Indian origin.
This summary was prepared by the Atlantic Community editorial team from "India's Engagement with the African Indian Ocean Rim States" published here in Chatham House, African Programme Paper on April 4, 2008.
Related materials from the Atlantic Community:
- Hans F. Bellstedt: Bangalore and the Challenge of Inclusive Growth
- Michele Schmiegelow: What Europe Can Learn from Asia
- Eckart von Klaeden: India's Changes