“There’s nothing wrong with China setting up a base in the Seychelles”. This is apparently what the Indian defense minister had to say when asked if China’s plans to build a naval port on the Indian ocean island chain was of concern to India. The Hindustan Times puts it this way:
The Defence [sic] Ministry on Tuesday said it did not see anything “wrong” in China setting up a military base in Seychelles since this appeared to be part of Beijing’s efforts to combat piracy in the Indian ocean region. “The world has mutual concerns about piracy going on in that region. They are also trying to play a major role in that. I think they are augmenting their anti-piracy efforts. I don’t see anything wrong in this,” minister of state for defence MM Pallam Raju said.
Others weren’t quite so sanguine. One analyst said, “This is a serious development…China seems to have got a toehold in the country, despite the presence there of both the US and India. The question now is, will the toehold turn into a foothold?”
Probably not right away; the news that a US drone fell from the sky near the Seychelles airport is a reminder that Beijing will not have the islands to itself. The low key Indian reaction also reflects the multinational nature of the anti piracy effort. The growing scourge of piracy in the waters off East Africa is a threat to Indian as well as to other interests; ships from many countries are patrolling these waters in the attempt to protect commerce, and the invitation to China makes some sense.
Though not an overtly antagonistic military maneuver, China’s move to the Seychelles is indeed a quiet step forward in the competition with India. Indians have viewed Chinese arrangements with countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan as part of an effort to put together a “string of pearls” — Chinese bases in countries surrounding India. Previously, India thought of the Seychelles as part of its own network of regional allies; now that status seems a little less secure, and some of India’s defense bureaucrats will likely be putting in some unusually long hours as they figure out how to respond.