Feature Article

Maldives openly backs US Indo-Pacific Strategy

[TamilNet, Friday, 17 January 2020, 21:58 GMT]
The Maldives would be backing the “Indo-Pacific Strategy” (IPS), the maritime naval strategy of the USA, the Foreign Minister of the Maldives Abdulla Shahid has told the Hong-Kong based paper South China Morning Post on Thursday. The Maldivian FM described India as a “special” friend and said his country shared "same needs, same security concerns" with India regarding China's geopolitical ambitions in the Indian Ocean Region. He was talking to the South China Morning Post on the sidelines of the Raisina Dialougue, the conference on geopolitics organised by the Indian External Affairs Ministry and Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi.

Mr Shahid disagreed with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who described the US terminology of ‘Indo-Pacific’ as having a “divisive” intent when compared to the description of ‘Asia-Pacific’.

“Why do you need to call Asia-Pacific as Indo-Pacific? The answer is evident — to exclude China. Terminology should be unifying, not divisive,” Mr Lavrov had stated on Wednesday.

At the same conference, Indian Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh claimed that China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) impinged on India's sovereignty.

The Maldivian FM told the Post that his government was about to review the free-trade agreement signed by the previous government with China.

"During President Yameen's administration relations with India and the rest of the world hit rock-bottom. He tried to play India and China against each other, in a childish manner, like you see in a school backyard," he said.

The latest declaration by the Maldives, embracing the Indo-Pacific Strategy of the USA, could also go to the extent of allowing for the establishment of another Forward Operating Location of the US Indo-Pacific Command in the Indian Ocean in future, in addition to the location in Diego-Garcia, Tamil political observers in Jaffna said.

“Within South Asia, we are working to operationalize our Major Defense Partnership with India, while pursuing emerging partnerships with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Nepal,” stated the US Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, which was released by the Pentagon, in June 2019.

The US, under the Trump administration, officially adopted the phrase “Indo-Pacific” describing the Indo-Pacific as a priority region in its National Security Strategy issued in 2017.

The US Pacific Command (USPACOM) was renamed to US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) in May 2018.

The USINDOPACOM is one of six geographic combatant commands of the USA.

The headquarters of the INDOPACOM is located on the island of Oahu, the third-largest Hawaiian island, which is also home to Honolulu, the capital city of Hawaii and the lagoon harbour known as the Pearl Harbour.

The US Air Force maintains a Forward Operating Location in Diego-Garcia, an overseas territory of the United Kingdom in the Indian Ocean Region.

Diego-Garcia island is located south of the Maldives at 1,200 km of airline distance.

During the times of World War II, the British Royal Air Force had an airfield staging post on Gan Island, the southernmost of the string of islands forming the Addu Atoll of the Maldives.

Also after World War II, RAF Gan gained significance, especially in 1956 when SWRD Bandaranaike in Colombo declared that the Brtish could no longer use Negombo and Trincomalee as RAF bases.

Gan was used as a military supply route connection point for the UK with Australia and Hong Kong. With a deepwater lagoon, Gan is also suitable for naval refuelling.

The Maldives gained independence in 1965.

Although the British retained the lease on Gan to last up to 1986, the contract was terminated in 1976.

In the meantime, India and Seychelles have agreed to set up a joint naval base on Assumption Island in 2018. India has also planned to extend a runway and setting up an airbase in Mauritius, specifically at the archipelago of Agaléga.

China has established a military base in Djibouti and there are widespread speculations particularly in the Indian circles that it may convert the Pakistani port of Gwadar, which it is currently developing under the CPEC, for its naval purposes in the future.

[Illustration courtesy: Wikimedia Commons]
[Map courtesy: USINDOPACOM]

Related Articles:
13.12.11   China announces Indian Ocean naval base in Seychelles

External Links:
SCMP: India and the US over China: Maldives picks a side in the Indian Ocean
The Japan Times: Russia says U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy is meant to contain China



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