New Delhi: India and Oman on Monday signed a key pact that extends dry docking and other facilities to Indian naval ships in the strategically located Gulf country.
It can be seen as a move that bolsters India’s strategy to counter Beijing in the Indian Ocean region where it is increasingly making inroads.
The two countries have also agreed to hold joint military exercises to shore up their defence partnership, a day after India announced its first naval exercises with another Gulf partner, the United Arab Emirates.
A supplementary pact to an existing defence agreement was among eight accords signed during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s two-day visit to Oman that concluded on Monday.
According to Oman News Agency, the pact envisages use of the strategically located Duqm port and dry dock for maintenance of Indian military vessels—a development that Indian analysts have welcomed given the increasing presence of Chinese ships and submarines in the Indian Ocean.
Former chief of the Indian Navy Admiral Arun Prakash said China’s increasing “footholds" in India’s periphery from Myanmar to Pakistan and establishment of a base in Djibouti were a matter of concern for India.
“China is a Pacific country," he said, referring to its large coastline along the Pacific Ocean. “So the question is what is it doing in the Indian Ocean? India is at the centre of the Indian Ocean. So India does need to respond" to Chinese moves which “are quite opaque".
“Duqm is a very strategically located port. So this is a very positive development. This is good news for us," Prakash added.
During his visit, Modi held talks with Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said and others.
A joint statement issued on Monday said the “two sides expressed satisfaction over the current state of bilateral relations, especially the robust security and defence cooperation, and agreed to further expand their cooperation to new areas of mutual interest, including space, cybersecurity, energy security, renewable energy and food security with a view to taking the strategic partnership to a higher level".
To provide a boost to defence ties, the two countries agreed to “regular holding of joint exercises by the three defence forces, training of navy, air force and army officials, as also cooperation in the area of coastal defence and through participation in defence exhibitions".
Besides this, “the two sides agreed to enhance cooperation to strengthen maritime security in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean regions, vital for the security and prosperity of both countries. They further agreed to promote bilateral collaboration for humanitarian assistance and evacuation in natural disasters and conflict situations", the statement said.
The India-Oman joint statement also strongly condemned “terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, wherever committed and by whomever".
It “declared that there could be no justification for any act of terrorism anywhere".
The two countries also agreed on the need to “isolate the sponsors and supporters of terrorism" and urged the international community to “take urgent action against all such entities which support terrorism and use it as an instrument of policy. The two sides agreed to coordinate efforts to counter extremism and radicalization and misuse of religion by groups and countries for inciting hatred and perpetrating acts of terrorism", the statement added.
On the trade front, Modi and Qaboos “directed their finance and trade ministers to work together to find ways and means to substantially increase the flow of bilateral investments and trade".
“Both sides underlined the ongoing transformation of the economies of India and Oman and emphasized the importance of expanding trade and investment ties to drive the strategic engagement forward," it said.
Modi “welcomed the invitation to Indian companies to invest in various sectors in the special economic zones of Oman, including SEZs in Duqm, Sohar and Salalah. The Indian prime minister offered India’s partnership and cooperation in areas of priority, such as minerals and mining, manufacturing, logistics, infrastructure, tourism, agriculture and fisheries, IT and IT-enabled services, skills development and innovation."