New Delhi: Within a fortnight of China hosting a summit of world leaders for its flagship “Belt and Road Initiative" (BRI), India has reached out to key Indian Ocean island state Mauritius with a $500 million line of credit and a maritime security pact to boost ties between the two countries.
Mauritius was one of the 50 countries and international organisations that attended the 14-15 May summit hosted by China on its ambitious infrastructure and trade initiative spanning three continents in Beijing. While Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar were represented by top leaders, Mauritius was represented by a minister at the BRI conference.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hosted his counterpart Pravind Jugnauth on Saturday, said after talks that they had agreed that the effective management of conventional and non-conventional threats in the Indian Ocean was a prerequisite for the exploitation of economic opportunities.
“The conclusion of the bilateral Maritime Security Agreement will strengthen our mutual cooperation and capacities," Modi said. “We have also agreed to further strengthen our wide-ranging cooperation in hydrography for a secure and peaceful maritime domain."
“There must have been some quiet discussions" about China and the BRI between India and Mauritius, said Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University. “India must have pointed out the problems faced by countries like Sri Lanka in terms of debts and Myanmar in terms of ecological problems. These were referred to by India in its statement when New Delhi announced it would not be taking part in the Beijing meet," Kondapalli said.
Besides being a key source of foreign direct investment – $91.22 billion in April 2000-September 2015 according to the Indian foreign ministry website -- India views Mauritius as central to its Indian Ocean strategy, seen as a foil to China’s more aggressive and ambitious BRI.
It was in Mauritius in March 2015 that the prime minister chose to outline India’s vision for the Indian Ocean region.
In that speech, on the occasion of the commissioning of an offshore patrol vessel, Barracuda, in Mauritius, Modi spoke of deepening of economic and security links with “friends" in the region, especially maritime neighbours and island states like Mauritius.
Underlining the importance of the Indian Ocean, Modi had noted that it “bears two-thirds of the world’s oil shipments, one-third of its bulk cargo; and half of its container traffic" with “over three-fourths of its traffic" going to other regions of the world.
The “Indian Ocean Region is at the top of our policy priorities," Modi had said. “Our vision for Indian Ocean Region is rooted in advancing cooperation in our region; and, to use our capabilities for the benefit of all in our common maritime home...Those who live in this region have the primary responsibility for peace, stability and prosperity in the Indian Ocean."
“Our partnership with Mauritius is among our strongest maritime relationships in the world...We will also train and patrol the seas together," Modi had said.
Modi’s comments then were seen as a counter to Chinese plans that aims to put billions of dollars in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids across Asia, Africa and Europe through the Eurasian landmass and the Indian Ocean – through BRI.
India is wary of the BRI for several reasons including the fact that one strand of the initiative runs through disputed Kashmir.