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India's Strategic Calculus in the Indian Ocean: Mauritius, Maldives, and the China Factor

Key Developments and Implications

Agaléga: A Strategic Asset for India: India's construction of an airstrip and jetty on Mauritius' Agaléga Island strengthens its maritime posture in the Southwest Indian Ocean. Key potential benefits for India include:

  • Augmented Situational Awareness: The facilities offer enhanced Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), increasing India's ability to monitor and secure vital shipping lanes in the region.

  • Capacity for Humanitarian and Disaster Relief (HADR): The infrastructure will bolster India's capabilities to extend humanitarian and disaster relief support to the region, promoting its image as a responsible power.

  • Strategic Signalling: While concerns about militarisation exist, the development signals India's intent to engage as a security partner for Mauritius and other regional actors.

The Maldives: Adapting to Shifting Dynamics: The replacement of Indian military personnel with civilian technical experts in the Maldives reflects the complex political landscape of the island nation. This underscores:

  • Domestic Politics and Strategic Partnerships: Changes in domestic political leadership within Indian Ocean nations can significantly impact their foreign policy trajectories, influencing India's regional posture.

  • Maintaining Resilient Ties: India's sustained commitment to technical cooperation and capacity building highlights its focus on cultivating enduring multifaceted relationships.

Geostrategic Significance of Mauritius and the Maldives

Both Mauritius and the Maldives hold critical importance for India's strategic interests in the Indian Ocean:

  • Sea Lane Sentinels: Their locations provide valuable platforms to monitor critical Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs), crucial for trade and energy security.

  • Partnership for Regional Initiatives: These island nations offer India opportunities to promote collaborative efforts on non-traditional security issues such as climate change, disaster resilience, and blue economy development.

  • Balancing China's Rise: India's strategic engagement with Mauritius and the Maldives forms a crucial part of its efforts to counterbalance China's expanding footprint in the Indian Ocean propelled by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Complexities and Imperatives in India-Maldives Relations

  • Rich Historical Ties: India and the Maldives share deep historical bonds, with India's "Neighbourhood First" policy prioritising cooperation with the island state.

  • Domestic Politics and Shifting Alignments: The recent electoral success of a pro-China administration highlights how shifts in Maldivian domestic politics can create complexities in the bilateral relationship.

  • The Need for Nuanced Engagement: Despite political challenges, India's security and geopolitical considerations necessitate ongoing efforts to sustain the partnership and protect its interests.

A Robust Partnership: India and Mauritius

  • Strong Foundations: Robust economic ties, a vibrant Indian diaspora, and shared cultural underpinnings contribute to the strength of this relationship.

  • Agaléga's Strategic Implications: While raising sovereignty debates, the development of Agaléga signals deepening strategic cooperation and enhanced maritime capabilities, bolstering India's Indian Ocean strategy.

China's Indian Ocean Ambitions and India's Response

China's Motivations: China's Indian Ocean strategy is driven by the need to secure trade routes, protect resource access, and project its influence on the global stage.

The "String of Pearls" Concern: China's development of potential dual-use port facilities in the Indian Ocean fuels India's strategic concerns.

India's Comprehensive Approach: India's countermeasures include:

  • Expanding Strategic Partnerships: Prioritising partnerships with island nations and other regional actors.

  • Naval Modernisation: Focused efforts on developing blue-water naval capabilities.

  • Quad and Multilateralism: Active participation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) and platforms like IORA.

  • The SAGAR Initiative: Promoting Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR), emphasising the value of a cooperative, rule-based order.

Map Work and Background Analysis