China is weighing up whether to open an Indian Ocean naval base in the Seychelles in a move which will heighten tensions with India amid fears of a regional arms race.
By Peter Simpson, Beijing and Dean Nelson in New Delhi
Beijing’s Defence Ministry confirmed it was considering an offer from the Seychelles government to establish a port to supply its anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.
But the move was met with concern in India as it announced it was increasing its military spending to strengthen its long border with Chinaand check its growing strategic influence in the region.
New Delhi will spend more than £65 billion on arms in the next five years to strengthen its eastern and western defences against China and Pakistan. India is now the world’s largest weapons importer and Foreign Policy magazine recently described its military build up and one of the biggest ‘hidden’ stories of 2011.
India’s former intelligence chief Vikram Sood said he was surprised the Seychelles government, which has traditionally been close to India, had offered naval facilities to China, and said it would heighten Indian concerns over China’s growing influence.
He said India’s announcement of a dramatic increase in military spending was a “retaliatory” move to counter China’s military expansion across their border in Tibet.
“It’s an ongoing exercise in retaliation for what the Chinese are doing in Tibet over the last few years. China moving into the Seychelles will increase worries in India, even if they underplay it now. It could have long-term implications not just for India, but for the world,” he said. The presence of Chinese ships in the southern Indian Ocean will strengthen Beijing’s ability to launch military interventions in Africa to protect its substantial investments in the country.
China’s state media said Beijing was responding to an offer made last month to Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie by the Seychelles administration “to establish a military base”.
“The Seychelles expressed appreciation for China’s efforts to ensure safe navigation on the Indian Ocean, as well as general support China had given [to the archipelago],” the English-language China Daily reported.
Li Jie, a professor at the Naval Military Studies Research Institute said the port would not be a military base but would “act as a re-supply station for Chinese navy shops involved in anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia and in the Indian Ocean”, the China Daily reported.
China has funded or plans to invest in several major infrastructure projects including ports in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Burma, in a policy described as a “string of pearls” with which to ‘choke’ India.