New Delhi: India and the Seychelles will look to further strengthen their economic and strategic ties during the talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Seychelles President Danny Faure on Monday.

India will also try to persuade the Seychelles to stay the course with a 2015 agreement, which allows New Delhi to develop a strategic facility on the Assomption Island.

The state visit by Faure, who arrived on Friday in Ahmedabad to reach New Delhi on Sunday after a stopover at Goa, is part of the regular high-level exchanges between India and Seychelles. “It will accord an opportunity to review our wide-ranging bilateral cooperation, including defence and security, and development partnership," said an Indian foreign ministry statement.

India will be handing over a second Dornier maritime reconnaissance aircraft to Faure on Tuesday, in line with its record of helping Seychelles monitor its 1.3 million sq. km exclusive economic zone (EEZ)—estimated to be twice the size of Madagascar’s EEZ.

According to two people familiar with the matter, almost 50% of Seychelles’ military assets have been supplied by India, besides providing training to 70% of its military personnel. India has gifted the Seychelles Coast Guard a fast track vessel, a Dornier aircraft, and two helicopters.

It will be within the security and defence cooperation context that India will raise the status of the coastguard facility on Assomption island. The pact to build the facility was signed in 2015 during Modi’s visit to Seychelles—one of the three stops during a tour of Indian Ocean region countries. During the tour, the PM had also visited Mauritius, with New Delhi outlining plans to set up a similar facility in Mauritius’ Agalega Island.

According to one of the people cited above, the two facilities were meant to be “surveillance" posts —part of a chain of some 30-40 radar stations across the Indian Ocean region. However, news reports had then reported that India was looking to develop the two as military bases.

A surveillance post would mean India building radar facilities on the island without necessarily stationing its personnel. A military base on the other hand would mean the presence of Indian Army personnel and assets in consultation with the host government. Both the Assomption Island project and the facility in Agalega Islands were seen as key elements of a seeming counter narrative India was building to stave off Chinese moves of raising its profile in the Indian Ocean region, traditionally considered India’s backyard. China has built a series of ports and infrastructure facilities across Myanmar, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.

“There was a view that India should be increasing its own footprint in the Indian Ocean, given the Chinese upscaling," said C.U. Bhaskar, director of the New Delhi-based think tank, Society for Policy Studies.

However, news reports have claimed that both projects have been facing protests in Seychelles and the Mauritius. In fact, protests had led to India and Seychelles modifying the 2015 agreement earlier this year with New Delhi agreeing not to use the facility in case of a war, or for stationing any “nuclear" asset on the island. This, too, does not seem to have convinced the opposition with news reports quoting President Faure saying that his country would be cancelling the pact with India.

Abhijit Singh who heads the Maritime Policy Initiative at New Delhi-based Observer Foundation, said India may have inadvertently projected the idea that it wants to be the more dominant player in the Indian Ocean vis-a-vis China, with many smaller countries in the region, such as Seychelles, wanting to keep equidistance from both. “I think the message India will give Seychelles (during the Modi-Faure talks) is not to close all avenues on the deal, and that the two sides should look at the pact as something India can help the Seychelles with, in terms of building capacity, and not for India’s own use as a military facility," said Singh.

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