Category Archives: Maritime Relationships

“The Strategic Importance of Tonga for India”

Kulshrestha, Sanatan. “FEATURED | The Strategic Importance of Tonga for India” IndraStra Global 02, no. 02 (2016): 0031. http://www.indrastra.com/2016/02/FEATURED-Strategic-Importance-of-Tonga-for-India-002-02-2016-0031.html

| ISSN 2381-3652 | https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.2074561

 

Tonga is an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean, lying about 5,060 km Southeast of Hawaii. It comprises of 177 islands in the central Pacific Ocean covering ~360,700 sq km of ocean with a land area of 699 sq km. The main island groups are Tongatupu, Haíapai, and Vavaíua. It is to the credit of the Kingdom of Tonga that, it is the only monarchy in South Pacific that has never been colonized. The capital of Tonga is Nuku’alofa, which lies on the Tongatupu island chain.

China and Tonga

It is understood that pro democracy supporters started the riots in the central business district in Nuku’alofa on 16 November 2006. Since a large number of shops destroyed were owned by Chinese origin Tongans, China provided a concessional loan of $118 mn to Tonga. This was followed by military supplies worth Euro 340,000 in 2008.

Two Chinese warships namely a missile frigate “Mianyang” and a training ship “Zhenghe” visited Nukualofa in September 2010. A new Chinese- Tongan bank was also set up in 2013. China also gifted a $15 mn commercial Xian MA60 aircraft to Tonga.

This was followed by the visit of a Chinese Hospital ship “Peace Ark” on a “Harmonious Mission 2014” in Aug 2014. This ship provided consultations, medicines and even carried out complex surgeries for Tongans. As per, commanding officer of the “Harmonious Mission – 2014” Rear Admiral Shen Hao, “The purpose of this tour to Tonga, with the mission of providing medical services, is to carry forward the international humanitarian spirit, strengthen exchanges between the two militaries, and promote the view of harmony”.

On the other hand, the Chinese residents have been at the receiving end of the racial attacks. It is said that out of the 3000 to 4000 of them, only about 300 remain, the rest having fled Tonga.

Nevertheless, China continues to make overtures to Tonga.

 

India – Tonga Relations 

Tonga and India have very cordial relationship.

In July 2006, Indian naval ship – INS ‘Tabar’ paid a goodwill visit to Tonga. Late King George Tuopou V visited India in September 2009 on a private visit. Tonga has been provided 15 training slots for 2015-16 under ITEC programme. A small number of Tongan Defence Service personnel have been availing defence training in various training institutions in India. As per the MEA briefing notes, in 2007, India has given a grant-aid of US$ 100,000/- each for construction of access road from Wharf to Hunga village and up-gradation of jetty in Hunga. India has also provided grant-aid of US$ 3,00,000 for Tsunami Alert System in July 2014 and approved grant-aid of US$ 1,15,000 for Project Proposal “Upgrade to the Office of the Public Service Commission ICT Infrastructure” in October 2014.

Tonga delegation was led by the Prime Minister Lord Tu’ivakano, when Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi hosted the India-Pacific Island Countries Forum Summit in Suva (Fiji) during the visit on 19 November 2014 with the participation of 14 Pacific countries. Some of the announcements made during the summit with respect to Pacific countries (including Tonga) included;

-Setting up of a Special Adaptation Fund of $ 1 million,

– Development of Pan Pacific Islands Project for telemedicine and tele-education,

-Indian Visa on arrival for Pacific Island Countries .Deputation of ITEC experts to Pacific Island countries, including in the areas of agriculture, healthcare, and IT,

-Cooperation in the use of Space technology applications for improving the quality of life of people and communications,

-Explore possibilities of sharing data for monitoring climate change, disaster risk reduction, and management and resource management,

-Undertake joint research in traditional medicine; developing healthcare facilities for the benefit of people in the region.

Needless to say, that International Day of Yoga was celebrated in Tonga on 21 June 2015.

EEZ Resources

Tonga has an EEZ of 676,401 sq Km.

The seabed mineral potential of Tonga is attracting a large number of countries who intend to carry out exploration to assess the mining potential of the ‘sea floor massive sulphide’ deposits, which could yield significant amount of metals like gold, silver, copper and zinc.

Tonga is the first country in the world to promulgate Seabed Minerals Act in 2014 to manage seabed mineral activities in its territorial waters as well as its EEZ. The Act emphasizes the protection and preservation of the marine environment as well as the need to balance economic development for the people of Tonga against conservation of the biodiversity of the oceans. India can gain from this in framing its own deep sea mining regulations.

Way Ahead

It appears that Tongans believe India should look at South Pacific Ocean as a strategic interlink to the Indian Ocean and not as a peripheral appendage. Tongans apparently resent being seen via Fiji and Australia in the strategic scheme of power projection. They would prefer to be dealt with as an independent strategic partner along with other smaller nations in the South Pacific Ocean.

India has put in place a comprehensive framework for future cooperation in the South Pacific, the need now is to accelerate the collaboration in the areas of communications, climate change monitoring, fisheries, ocean sciences and technology.

 

It has been nearly 35 years since a Indian Prime Minister visited Tonga probably it is time now to take the relationship with Tonga to a higher echelon and also peg smaller South Pacific Nations as strategic allies.

52.India’s Bridges of Friendship in the Indian Ocean Region

(Published in World news report and Tazakhabarnews, 21 May 2015)

Two incidents in the recent past reflect the benevolent relationships India shares with countries in the Indian Ocean Region. First was supply of fresh water to Maldives through INS Deepak and INS Sukanya when the Maldivian desalination plant caught fire and the Maldives faced an unprecedented fresh water crisis. The second was evacuation of Indian and foreign citizens form Yemen involving Indian Navy, Indian Air Force, Air India, and passenger liners.

India has placed considerable emphasis on developing a security presence in the northeast Indian Ocean. There are several dimensions to this: first, India’s direct security presence in the Andaman Sea, second, its bilateral security relationships in the region and third, its aspirations to gain a security role in the Malacca Strait. While India aspires to play a significant security role in Southeast Asia it has given particular focus to the Malacca Strait, the key maritime choke point between the Indian and Pacific Ocean. India’s Andaman  and Nicobar islands, which run north-south through the Andaman Sea form a natural base for projecting power into the Strait and beyond into the South China Sea.

India has deep links with Singapore, which now acts as India’s primary economic, political and security partner in Southeast Asia. Singapore sees India as having an important security role in the region, acting as a balance to other extra-regional powers, including China, the United States, and Japan. India and Singapore conduct extensive security cooperation, including broad-based security dialogues, joint exercises, intelligence sharing, and cooperation in defense technology. At the invitation of the United States, India took a security role inside the Malacca Strait through the provision of naval escorts for high value commercial traffic, as part of the U.S. led Operation Enduring Freedom.

India has also been developing its security relationship with Indonesia; a Defence Cooperation Agreement was signed in 2001. There are biannual “coordinated” naval patrols; between the Indian and Indonesian navies in the Six-Degree Channel at the northern entrance to the Malacca Strait; to keep extremist groups from using these routes. These patrols comprise Indian and Indonesian vessels and aircraft, coordinated out of India’s Joint Operations Command in the Andaman Islands.

In November 2009, Australia and India concluded a joint security declaration, providing a framework for increased cooperation, security issues such as maritime policing (piracy and maritime terrorism, illegal fishing, people trafficking etc), disaster management, and anti-terrorism and there seem good prospects for closer security relations in coming years.

India-Malaysia defense relations have steadily grown over the years. A MOU on Defence Cooperation was signed in 1993. Malaysia-Indian Defence Cooperation meetings at the level of Defence Secretary from Indian side and Secretary General from Malaysian side are held regularly; Malaysia participates in the biennial MILAN event regularly. Indian navy and coast guard vessels make regular friendly port calls each year at Malaysian ports.

Thailand, and India have agreed to continue strengthening defence relations including exercises and joint patrolling.

Vietnam has also welcomed Indian Navy ships in their region, which would enhance India and Vietnam military relations. Vietnam has also sought Indian support for a peaceful resolution of the territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

India and Japan also have close military ties. They have shared interests in maintaining the security of sea-lanes in the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean, and in co-operation for fighting international crime, terrorism, piracy, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The two nations have frequently held joint military exercises and co-operate on technology. India and Japan concluded a security pact on 22 October 2008.

In June 2012, India, a major importer of arms and military hardware purchased eight warships from South Korea.

The first Republic of the Philippines–India Security Dialogue was held in Manila on 12 March 2004. The Philippines and India agreed to establish a security dialogue that would serve as a policy forum for sharing security assessments and for reviewing and giving direction to co-operation in bilateral/regional security and defence matters.

In August 2009, a security agreement was formalised with Maldives that will significantly enhance India’s capabilities in the central Indian Ocean. India has been granted use of the former British naval and air base on Gan Island, part of the southernmost group of islands in the Maldives. (Lying around 1,000 km south of India and around 700 km north of Diego Garcia). As part of the agreement, India is also building a system of 26 electronic monitoring facilities across the Maldives archipelago.

India has cordial relations with Iran due to India being a major importer of Iranian oil and the fact that  it is now actively engaged in developing container terminals at Chahbahar port. Since 2003, India has entered into several defence agreements with Oman dealing with training, maritime security cooperation and joint exercises. The Indian Air Force uses the Thumrait air base for transit purposes and Oman has offered the Indian Navy berthing facilities in support of anti-piracy patrols. In 2008 India also entered into a security agreement with Qatar which, according to some reports, includes Indian security guarantees. The agreement, deals among other things with maritime security and intelligence sharing. India has a cordial relationship with Yemen since diplomatic ties were established in 1967.

The south western Indian Ocean forms the gateway between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. India’s security relationships in the region are anchored by its close relationship with Mauritius, the island territory that lies around 900km to the east of Madagascar. India has long-standing and close political, economic and security associations with Mauritius. Since 2003, the Indian Navy has also provided maritime security through periodic patrols of Mauritian waters including anti-piracy patrols in 2010.

The Indian Navy has assisted Seychelles with maritime security in the EEZ under a 2003 defence cooperation agreement under which it provided anti-piracy patrols in early 2010. In July 2007 the Indian Navy opened an electronic monitoring facility in northern Madagascar at the head of the Mozambique Channel and reportedly has also been granted “limited” berthing rights in Madagascar for Indian naval vessels. The Indian Navy has also acted as a maritime security provider for Mozambique, in 2006, India and Mozambique entered a defence cooperation agreement that envisages joint maritime patrols, supply of military equipment, training, and technology transfer in repairing and assembling military vehicles, aircraft and ships.

India’s maritime security relationships in the southwestern Indian Ocean are also buttressed by growing maritime security relations with France and South Africa. Since 2001, the Indian Navy has conducted annual exercises with the French navy, which operates out of Reunion and Djibouti. India also has a growing presence in Antarctica, with three active research stations.

From the above it can be visualized that India has built a reasonable number of bridges of friendship in the Indian Ocean Region which have helped in enhancing its image as a benign friend in need.

51. French Influence in the Indian Ocean Region – A Perspective

(Published in IndraStra Global – Strategic Information & Intelligence Forecasting, 20 May 2015)

France has continued to cultivate and nurture its influence in the Indian Ocean Region through its geographical presence, naval ties and interdependencies developed through military equipment sales.

France has its out posts at Mayotte & La Reunion and military bases in Djibouti and Abu Dhabi. The Mayotte archipelago consists of two major islands and a number of small islets between NE Mozambique and NW Madagascar in the Mozambique Channel. Though geographically it is a part of the Comoro Islands, its people preferred accession to France in 2009. The Foreign Legion detachment in Mayotte has strength of 270 personal and can act as a rapid reaction force. This contingent exercises mainly with Madagascar armed forces, adds to security and maritime surveillance of the Mozambique Channel and can be used for humanitarian assistance tasks in the area. Mayotte has an EEZ of 63,078 sq kms. Reunion (La Reunion) is an island ~120 kms SW of Mauritius and East of Madagascar. Reunion provides a convenient access to sea lines of communications (SLOCS) in eastern and southern coast of Africa. France maintains a small naval presence at Reunion islands through its naval base at Point des Galets, which has a frigate, a support ship and some patrol craft. Reunion has an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 31, 5058 sq kms.

Republic of Djibouti is strategically located in the horn of Africa, with Gulf of Aden and Red Sea as its eastern borders. It shares its borders with Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Djibouti’s location offers a controlling position over the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Its Camp Lemonnier military base (ex France) has been leased to USA and is being upgraded by an investment of $1.4 billion to house over 1000 US Special Forces. France, under a defence treaty, pays €30 million/year for keeping up to 3000 troops under the Forces Françaises de Djibouti. France has also stationed marine, air force and army units at Djibouti with fighter aircrafts at Ambouli airport. Djibouti provides a military access to SLOCS between Red Sea and Indian Ocean, which carry the bulk of French energy supplies. Interestingly, since 2012, China too has got a foothold in Djibouti, as its China Harbour Engineering Company is executing a $64 million project of constructing an ore terminal for export of salt to SE Asia.

In 2009, France signed an agreement with Emirates to operate a military base at Abu Dhabi. The naval base is at port Mina Zayed and can berth French naval ships except aircraft carriers. The air force base is at Al Dhafra which can house fighter aircraft. The Army base (Urban Combat Training and intelligence) is at Zayed and the famous 13th Démi-Brigade de la Légion Étrangère has been relocated to this base from Djibouti, without diluting the French military presence at Djibouti. Abu Dhabi is located near the junction of Straits of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. This base provides France access to the SLOCS in Persian Gulf and ensures safety of its oil supplies.

In 2011 France has signed an agreement with Kenya for cooperation in the fields of international security, economic partnership, and scientific collaboration amongst others. France has also gifted a patrol boat for helping Kenya in its fight against sea piracy. France has nurtured its relationship with South Africa with which it holds regular military exercises. Both countries are looking for greater cooperation in ensuring maritime security in association with other countries. France, Mozambique and South Africa carried out ‘Operation Oxide’ an anti-piracy naval exercise in 2011.

In addition to the above, the French presence also comprises of its Territory of the French Southern and Antarctica Lands , which have Scattered Islands (around Madagascar),Crozet Islands (South of Madagascar), and the St. Paul, Amsterdam and the Kerguelen Islands in southern Indian Ocean. Further, south, it has its claims in the Antarctica.  The Combined EEZ of all the French territories in the Indian Ocean amounts to nearly 1 million sq kms! The claimed EEZ in the Antarctica region is about 1.7 million sq kms.

Thus it can be seen that France has a significant strategic presence from Emirates in the Persian Gulf, Djibouti in the Gulf of Aden, off Madagascar and down to the Kerguelen islands in the Southern Indian Ocean Region. Further, it has ensured that its national interests in its energy supply lines and the extensive EEZ are carefully monitored and guarded.

The French sphere of influence in the Indian Ocean region has been shaped by a combination of its own energy and EEZ security requirements as well as by forging long-term relationships with countries through supply of military equipment. Its major competitor today is the United States, with which it has friendly relations. However, with China ramping up its own influence in the region by providing lucrative arms deals, affordable infrastructure and a rapidly growing PLA Navy, France would face a serious contender since it is unlikely that it would be able to match the attractive financial packages offered China in the IOR.

49. A Tale of Two Ports; Gwadar versus Chahbahar

(Published in  World news report and Tazakhabarnews on 14 May 2015)

Two important declarations in the past few days have brought in to focus the importance of the Makaran Coast to Middle East as well as the Central Asian Region.
Firstly, the Chinese president Xi Jinping launched $46bn worth of infrastructure and energy projects in Pakistan during his recent visit. The main thrust of these is to strengthen the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor CPEC between the Pakistani port of Gwadar and the Chinese Xinjiang region. This also forms a part of the Chinese one belt one road and maritime silk route programmes. Chinese government and banks like, Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd and China Development Bank will provide funds to Chinese companies investing in the projects. The likely Chinese companies are China Power International Development Ltd, Three Gorges Corp, ICBC Corporation, Zonergy Corporation, and Huaneng Group. The Chinese president has linked the investments to the safety and security of Chinese assets and workers since the projects involving railways, pipelines, and roads will cross through the insurgency infested areas of Balochistan.
The second important event has been the signing of MOU between Government of Iran and Government of India to develop the port of Chahbahar. The project will increase trade links between both countries. The Indian side has pledged to commit about $85 million to construct container and multi-purpose terminals.
Due to the geographical locations of Pakistan and Iran to the Caspian region and the fact that both provide the shortest routes to Arabian Sea ports, has led both the countries to progress developing infrastructure and connectivity of their ports with the Central Asian Region(CAR). Apart from oil and gas, the ports expect to harvest other trade commodities like cotton, which currently are routed through Russia to Middle East, East Asia and South Asia.
Just over 100 km apart, Gwadar the Pakistani port and Chabahar the Iranian port are competitors for accessing the CAR markets. Both Iran and Pakistan are wooing Afghanistan by giving trade and fees incentives to favour their respective port. Pakistan however fears that “Chabahar port would inflict a huge financial setback for Pakistan”.
As far as Afghanistan is concerned, its natural resources include, 2.2 billion tons of iron ore, 60 million tons of copper, and 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements such as cerium, neodymium, and lanthanum. It also has lodes of gold, silver, aluminium, zinc, lithium and mercury. The carbonite deposits in Helmand province itself are valued at $89 billion. The US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Central Asian Republics have shown interest in these deposits. Afghanistan being a land locked country is currently dependent upon Pakistani ports for its international trade. If Chahbahar port starts operating it would provide an alternate port to Afghanistan without encumbrance of insurgency. In view of the above, it makes sense to look at both the ports in some detail.
Gwadar
Gwadar lies in the Baluchistan province of Pakistan. A province, which is rich in natural resources like oil and gas. In fact, of Pakistan’s ~28tcf gas reserves, ~19tcf are in Baluchistan. The Baloch claim that, despite being the largest gas producer in Pakistan, they get only 20% of the royalty payments received by the other two gas producing provinces. They thus subsidise the rich provinces, even though they are in fact the poorest in the country and that nothing much has been done by the government for their development from the vast revenue generated from Baluchistan. No wonder that the Sui gas fields which lie in Bugti tribe controlled region, are the ones most affected by militancy. Baloch militants pose a credible threat to the vast span of gas pipelines, which are not possible to police or monitor effectively (for e.g. The Sui Southern Gas Company has a pipeline network of over 27,500 km covering Baluchistan and Sindh).
Current Phase of Insurgency. The Gwadar port development project was commenced in 2002.Millions of dollars poured in to the quiet village of Gwadar from Chinese and Pakistani investors (~$200mn was the Chinese investment for the first phase of the project completed in 2005). The premise was that Gwadar would be converted in to major port hub on the lines of Dubai and the locals would benefit most. The Baloch soon realised that this was not to be, and that once again their natural resources were being siphoned out by the Central government. In 2006, Pakistani Cobra helicopter gunships and F-16 fighter jets attacked Baloch areas suspected of insurgency; state organised disappearances and kidnappings culminated in killing of the Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti. The Then President Musharraf told his core commanders “the writ of the Pakistani government will never be challenged. Let that be a warning… if anyone challenges the writ of the government, I will crush it.”
‘Great Land Robbery’ story was published in The Herald in Jun 2008, claiming that hundreds of thousands of acres of land had been illegally allotted to non resident military and civilian personnel and resold to builders for residential and industrial purposes. The Baloch realised that their illiterate poor had been deprived of a rightful share in Gwadar’s growth. The insurgent attacks spiralled to about 33 attacks per month in 2009 and continue to this day, Pakistan blames India and Afghanistan for fanning the tribal Baloch sentiments against military excesses and economic exploitation. Many foreign analysts have however not found any credible evidence actively linking India with the Baloch insurgency. Gwadar has thus become the lynch pin for the Baloch hatred of Punjabi elite. Towards the end of Xi’s, visit this April 2015, separatist Baluch rebels launched attacks on a coastal radar station near Gwadar, and on a security force convoy in the Awaran district of the province.
Gwadar Port. Gwadar had a population of about 5000 in 2001, mainly comprising of poor fishermen, once the Chinese assisted deep-water port development began, it has crossed a population of 125000. Apart from a network of roads, rail air and infrastructural projects, Pakistan plans include a liquid natural gas (LNG) terminal, an international airport, a cement plant, an oil refinery, and a steel mill. China’s interests at Gwadar are very clear; China is looking for monitoring of its Gulf oil supply route as well as an opening for import/ export trade from its Muslim majority Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
The first phase of Gwadar port was completed on schedule by the Chinese in 2005. The running of the port was leased for 40 years to PSA International of Singapore in 2007 by the Pakistani government. The agreement however ran into problem with Pakistan blaming PSA of not keeping their end of contract with respect to the investments promised by them. The running of the port has now been handed over to the Chinese. With Gwadar port commencing operations it has given the Chinese an opening in to the Arabian Sea, a strategic depth to Pakistan navy and some cause for worry to India. In 2008 the then Chief of Naval Staff, Indian Navy Admiral Sureesh Mehta said Gwadar could be used by Pakistan to “take control over the world energy jugular.”
Importance for China. Oil tankers from Gulf transit about 6000 nm and those from the African coast transit about 10,000 nm before they discharge their energy cargo at Chinese ports. Both the tankers routes have to pass through Malacca Straits in addition to problem zones in their respective routes. If tankers can unload at Gwadar, they would have to travel only about 680 nm from the Gulf and about 3000 nm from African coast (Angola). Pak-China pipeline from Gwadar to Kashghar in Xinjiang is likely to run parallel to the Karakorum highway and cover a distance of about 1500 miles over tough mountainous terrain. It would also provide berthing facilities to PLA Navy. Indicators that China is seriously contemplating Pak-China energy corridor are evident from the following development projects:-
-Phase II of Gwadar port and International Airport at Gwadar by China Harbour Engineering Company.
-Petrochemical city (including oil refining capacity of 421,000 bpd) by Great United Petroleum Holdings Company Limited.
-Rail link up to Xingjian by Dong Fang Electric Supply Corp.
-Upgrading of Karakoram high way.
-Construction of Kazakhstan-China and Turkmenistan – China pipelines and their eventual augmentation by feed from Gwadar-Kashghar pipeline.
– Most important of all the recent pledge of nearly $38 bn (of a total of $46 bn) infrastructure and energy projects in the region by the Chinese President.
Chahbahar
The Chabahar port project is very important for Afghanistan since it would enable shipping goods to Middle East and Europe as well as allow inflow of key goods to Afghanistan. Economically it would imply a significant boost to its trade and investment in much needed infrastructure. This has now become a distinct possibility with the US and Iran about to reach an understanding on Iran’s Nuclear program.
The port of Chabahar is located in the south of Baluchistan and Sistan Province and it is the only Iranian port with direct access to the Indian Ocean. It has historically been a trade centre because of its access Oman Sea and Persian Gulf. Chabahar port has an area of 11 sqkm and is interestingly located at the same latitude as the Miami port in the Florida. The weather at Chabahar port is quite similar to Miami port in that it is very pleasant in summer. It is also one of the coolest ports of the Middle East. The port has been under construction since 1973 but lack of resources has resulted in delays in its completion. Shahid-Kalantary and Shahid-Beheshti are two important ports in Chahbahar. Its location outside of the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz has been very beneficial to Iran’s trade since the Iran – Iraq war. The port will be connected to the Trans-Iranian railway with the completion of the Kerman-Zahedan railway.
A trilateral agreement was signed between Iran, India, and Afghanistan In 2003. India was to build a road, known as Route 606, connecting Delaram, the border city of Afghanistan to Zaranj the Capital of Nimruz province in Afghanistan. Iran was to build a highway from Chabahar up to Delaram. Border Roads Organization of India constructed the Delaram – Zaranj highway and it was completed in 2009.
With the likelihood of West easing sanctions on Iran, India has once again stepped in with a modest investment to construct container and multipurpose terminals; this would make Chabahar operational in future. It would also provide India with ease of trade with Central Asian Republics, Afghanistan and Iran. Chahbahar does not lie in an insurgency-ridden area like Gwadar therefore, it is clear that nations would prefer Chahbahar.
India needs to keep promoting Chahbahar as a strategic port on the Makaran coast as it addresses both the ease of trading as well as India’s security needs in the region.

22.An Umbrella of French Connections in the Indian Ocean Region- A Naval Perspective

(Published in Defence and Security Alert, Jun 2013)

An Umbrella of French Connections in the Indian Ocean Region- A Naval Perspective

France continues to accord strategic importance to the Indian Ocean region in the post cold war scenario. This article aims to highlight how France has cultivated and nurtured its influence in the region through its geographical presence/ naval ties and the interdependencies developed through military equipment sales.

France has its out posts at Mayotte & La Reunion and military bases in Djibouti and Abu Dhabi. The Mayotte archipelago consists of two major islands and a number of small islets between NE Mozambique and NW Madagascar in the Mozambique Channel. Though geographically it is a part of the Comoro Islands, its people preferred accession to France in 2009. The Foreign Legion detachment in Mayotte has strength of 270 personal and can act as a rapid reaction force. This contingent exercises mainly with Madagascar armed forces, adds to security and maritime surveillance of the Mozambique Channel and can be used for humanitarian assistance tasks in the area. Mayotte has an EEZ of 63,078 sq kms. Reunion (La Reunion) is an island ~120 kms SW of Mauritius and East of Madagascar. Reunion provides a convenient access to SLOCS in eastern and southern coast of Africa. France maintains a small naval presence at Reunion islands through its naval base at Point des Galets, which has a frigate, a support ship and some patrol craft. Reunion has an EEZ of 31, 5058 sq kms.

Republic of Djibouti is strategically located in the horn of Africa, with Gulf of Aden and Red Sea as its eastern borders. It shares its borders with Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Djibouti’s location offers a controlling position over the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Its Camp Lemonnier military base (ex France) has been leased to USA and is being upgraded by an investment of $1.4 billion to house over 1000 US Special Forces. France, under a defence treaty, pays €30 million/year for keeping up to 3000 troops under the Forces Françaises de Djibouti. France has also stationed marine, air force and army units at Djibouti with fighter aircrafts at Ambouli airport. Djibouti provides a military access to SLOCS between Red Sea and Indian Ocean, which carry the bulk of French energy supplies. Interestingly, since 2012, China too has got a foothold in Djibouti, as its China Harbour Engineering Company is executing a $64 million project of constructing an ore terminal for export of salt to SE Asia.

“The permanent French military installation in Abu Dhabi shows the responsibility that France, as a global power, agrees to assume with its closest partners, in a region that is a fault line for the whole world,” President Nicholas Sarkozy, 2009.

In 2009, France signed an agreement with Emirates to operate a military base at Abu Dhabi. The naval base is at port Mina Zayed and can berth French naval ships except aircraft carriers. The air force base is at Al Dhafra which can house fighter aircraft. The Army base (Urban Combat Training and intelligence) is at Zayed and the famous 13th Démi-Brigade de la Légion Étrangère has been relocated to this base from Djibouti, without diluting the French military presence at Djibouti. Abu Dhabi is located near the junction of Straits of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. This base provides France access to the SLOCS in Persian Gulf and ensures safety of its oil supplies.

In 2011 France has signed an agreement with Kenya for cooperation in the fields of international security, economic partnership, and scientific collaboration amongst others. France has also gifted a patrol boat for helping Kenya in its fight against sea piracy. France has nurtured its relationship with South Africa with which it holds regular military exercises. Both countries are looking for greater cooperation in ensuring maritime security in association with other countries. France, Mozambique and South Africa carried out ‘Operation Oxide’ an anti-piracy naval exercise in 2011.

In addition to the above, the French presence also comprises of its Territory of the French Southern and Antarctica Lands , which have Scattered Islands (around Madagascar),Crozet Islands (South of Madagascar), and the St. Paul, Amsterdam and the Kerguelen Islands in southern Indian Ocean. Further south, it has its claims in the Antarctica.  The Combined EEZ of all the French territories in the Indian Ocean amounts to around 1 million sq kms! The claimed EEZ in the Antarctica region is about 1.7 million sq kms.

Thus it can be seen that France has a significant strategic presence from Emirates in the Persian Gulf, Djibouti in the Gulf of Aden, off Madagascar and down to the Kerguelen islands in the Southern Indian Ocean Region. Further it has ensured that its national interests in its energy supply lines and the extensive EEZ are carefully monitored and guarded.

Export of Military Equipment.         France had been the third largest exporter of military equipment till last year when it was overtaken by China.     Military exports have very high significance in building deep security bonds with the recipient states, as unlike the commercial purchase agreements, the military hardware has other commitments and costs attached to it. Military contracts require consent of the participating governments (which more often than not lead to hefty payoffs).These contracts last over much longer periods due to requirements of spares and subsequent upgrades, the equipment is by and large unique and the costs of replacing the same with similar items from a different country, often entails setting up of completely new infrastructure with its testing and maintenance facilities. The purchase prices are not easy to compare, they depend to a large extent upon the relationships between the supplier and the recipient state.

States engage in defence purchases to hedge against the eventuality of confronting perceived /actual adversaries, so they need assurances of continued and quick supplies during break out of hostilities. They also expect that the supplier being a developed country would exert influence in their favour in the international forum, and if need be, they reciprocate by taking stances as called upon to by the supplier state. The military equipment supply contracts are  mutually complex, dependent upon foreign policy and impinge upon national interests of both the countries, they are not necessarily available to a state with just a large amount of surplus cash. Such contracts thus create a strategic mutual interdependency for the states.

France has been a major arms supplier to the region enveloping the Indian Ocean, as can be illustratively deciphered from the EU report for Arms Export[1] pertaining to declarations by member countries for the year 2009. France has exported military equipment to following regions during 2009:-

NE Asia (comprising China, Both Koreas, Japan, Mongolia and Taiwan) – €432687787/-.

S Asia (Comprising of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka) – € 1144433941/-.

SE Asia (Comprising of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste, Vietnam) – € 662697312/-.

In addition to the above, military equipment sales in the general region buffeting the Indian Ocean, i.e. to Sub Saharan Africa (€ 206824042/-) and Oceania (€ 669510368/-) indicate seriousness of strategic interests of France in the Indian Ocean Region. In fact France has created an overarching umbrella of strategic relationships in this region which can only be out matched by USA.

Coming to arms sales to India and Pakistan in 2009, the EU report reveals that France sold defence equipment worth € 224144732/- to Pakistan and worth         € 914654240/- to India. As far as Pakistan is concerned, since April 2010, France has suspended sale of Missiles and other electronic equipment worth € 6 billion meant for JF-17 aircraft. It is understood that France was worried about protection of its technology as the items were to be assembled in Pakistan.

Franco-Indian Naval Links.            Indian Navy has been carrying out joint naval exercises with French Navy since 1993, however it is to the credit of the French Navy that it was the first navy to re-commence the exercises in 2000, post the 1998 Pokhran blasts. The joint exercise was carried out with the aim to validate tactical doctrines and new weapons and sensors, it was titled ‘Springex 2000’.Indian Navy has subsequently institutionalised the annual exercises with French Navy and they are called ‘Varuna’. The last Varuna exercise in 2012 was carried out in the Mediterranean. It comprised replenishment at sea, surface and air target strikes, helicopter operations, and anti submarine warfare amongst others. Such exercises have led to development of joint operating doctrines in carrying out Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief and anti piracy operations.

Another very significant strategic factor for the Indian Navy is the technology transfer in respect of the French Scorpene submarines, a contract for the same was inked by India in 2005, with Armaris (Thales) and Direction des Constructions Navales (DCN) for construction of 6 Scorpene class submarines in India, at a cost of € 3 billion. The submarines would be assembled at Mazagon Dockyard Limited MDL, but all the critical parts like torpedo tubes, missile launchers, sonars, propellers, etc. would be manufactured by DCN and the electronic packages would be provided by Thales. The Scorpenes are supposed to be better than the Agosta 90B’s supplied by France to Pakistan. The Scorpene has a heavier hull, higher speed and a lesser manning complement. It can be fitted with Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system. The first four are likely to be the CM-2000 version with 12PA4 V 200 SMDS diesel electric propulsion system, having a length of 61.7 metres and a displacement of 1565 tons. The last two could be the AM-2000 version with both the diesel electric as well as the MESMA AIP system. The AIP version could be 70 meters in length with a displacement of 1870 tons. The submarines will be equipped with Submarine Tactical Integrated Combat System SUBTICS, Integrated long range sonar suite S-Cube, search and attack periscopes by Thales Optronic Systems, and SATCOM / VLS communication systems by Elbit systems.

The armament suite would comprise of up to four SM 39 Exocet (by MBDA) missiles (36 SM-39 have already been ordered) with a range of 180 kms and up to 16 torpedoes (not yet finalised) of the type Blackshark/Sea hake/Spearfish etc. The submarine delivery has however suffered delays due to problems at MDL, procurement of items from local sources and pulling out by the Spanish consultant Navantia. However $75 million worth of contract orders have already been placed by DCNS for Indigenous procurement with companies like Flash Forge, Visakhapatnam and SEC Industries Hyderabad. Pipavav Defence and Offshore Engineering Company Ltd is likely to forge strategic partnership with DCNS for building warships. The success of the submarine programme is imperative in realising blue water aspirations of the Indian Navy.  

Further, in February this year, France and India have signed a contract worth $6 billion to co-develop a Short Range Surface to Air Missile, by MBDA and DRDO, for deployment by both the Indian Navy and the Indian Air force.

Thus it can be seen that as far as the Indian Navy is concerned the Indo-French cooperative strategic relationship is well entrenched and likely to flourish more and more with passage of time and maturity.

The sphere of influence being desired by France in the Indian Ocean region has been shaped by a combination of its own energy and EEZ security requirements as well as by forging long term relationships with countries through supply of military equipment. In a way, France has sprinkled its gems wisely and commands influence far in access to its maritime forces in the area. Its major competitor today is the United States, with which it has friendly relations. However with China ramping up its own influence in the region by providing lucrative arms deals, affordable infrastructure and a rapidly growing PLA Navy, France would face a serious contender especially since it will not be able to match the prices offered by either China or the USA.

As far as India is concerned it is on a path of indigenous weapon development and production, therefore the foreign constituents in military procurement would rapidly reduce within the next decade. There appear no conflict of interests between aspirations of France and India in the IOR region. France has set the tone by engaging with India in a strategic outreach of transfer of technology and joint development ventures in defence, nuclear power and satellites, it only has to nurture this with foresight to become the main partner in the story of India’s indigenisation and its gradual rise as a regional power.


[1] Twelfth annual report according to article 8(2) of council common position 2008/944/cf sp defining common rules governing control of exports of military Technology and equipment. Official Journal of the European Un ion (2011/C 9/01)

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19. Maritime Contours: India – Vietnam & India-Japan Relationships

(Published article in Defence and Security Alert April 2013))

Maritime Contours: India – Vietnam & India-Japan  Relationships

Archaeological findings of shipwrecks found along Chinese coast have confirmed existence of Sea trade as early as 203 BC, to and from Chinese Kingdom ports to India, Sri Lanka and further on to Persia. Excavations at Guangzhou have revealed existence of a dockyard capable of building ships suitable for coastal sailing. Other ports on the route to India and beyond most probably provided transitory facilities of lodging, boarding, warehousing etc. The goods being traded however belonged to China, India and the Arabian countries. The Maritime Silk Road, known as an alternate to the land silk road was used from 25 AD onwards by Qin and Han Dynasties. Han dynasty records reveal that ships laden with raw and processed silk would transit to Rome via India/Sri Lanka, loading pearls and other goods produced in these countries. The maritime road weaved its way from China, India, Persian Gulf, and Red Sea to the ports in the Mediterranean. The Maritime Silk Road thus enabled trade and cultural exchanges for centuries between Far East and the West through the transit ports. It gained importance with improved skills in navigation and ship building and opening of other sea routes in South Asia, by the middle of 8th century it blossomed in to a preferred route because the land silk route was rendered unsuitable due to warring tribes. However in the early 17th century, The Ming and Qing dynasties banned maritime trade leading to a rapid decline in the usage of Maritime Silk Route. The spread of sea trade and the associated intermingling of cultures along the Maritime Silk Road, in a way, opened the doors to nearly 18 centuries of cooperative economic engagement between sea faring countries in Asia and Europe. Incidentally two of the important eastern ports were Jiaozhou, now in northern Vietnam and Guangzhou in China.

DSA apr-1

MAP: Ancient Maritime Silk Road

Today, the energy flows and to a lesser extent, sea borne trade dominate the Maritime Silk Road with the SLOCs becoming economic life lines for growth and sustenance in the Asia-Pacific region. Maritime commerce has flourished and would continue to do so because it is a far cheaper and quicker means of fuelling a country’s needs in a globalised world. Post cold war, it has been a major contributor to rapid growth in Asia although it has led to a host of security issues like, spectre of choking of SLOCS, sea piracy, strikes by terrorists & non state actors, drug & arms running, human trafficking, fishing disputes and environmental pollution. The wide spectrum of security issues have goaded the countries to cooperate through a loose frame work of arrangements at sea to ensure safety of SLOCs while guaranteeing   that their own sovereign interests are not impinged in any manner.

 Maritime Claims and Disputes

Even though majority of territorial boundary issues have been satisfactorily resolved, maritime disagreements and disputes continue to exist due to complicated maritime boundary claims by multiple countries mainly in the light of rich offshore resources and the gains associated with extended land mass in marking of EEZs.

DSA Apr 2

MAP: Complexities of EEZs in Asia-Pacific

 

For example Republic of Kiribati consisting of three island groups in the south pacific, with a land mass of just over 717 sq kms (compare with India’s land mass of about 3,287,590 sq kms) lays claim to an EEZ of the size of India! The countries in the region have however resorted to process of dispute resolution by showing a flexible and cooperative approach in almost all the cases, and have put in place provisional arrangements in case of unresolved issues.

 

Map:  Disputed Islands

 

Vietnamese Claims

The hydrocarbon rich Spratly islands in the South China Sea are claimed by China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Brunei, and Philippines. Vietnam has laid claim to Paracel Islands which are under occupation of China since mid seventies. Vietnam and China have disputes over claims to portions of Vung May, Song Hong and Phu Khanh basins. China stepped up the ante when it objected to oil and gas exploration in blocks 127 and 128 in the EEZ of Vietnam by OVL of India. However OVL which had initially withdrawn has decided to continue exploration after an extension of 2 years was granted by Vietnam.

 

South China Sea Territorial Claims

Country

South China Sea

Spratly Islands

Paracel Islands

Gulf of Thailand

Brunei

UNCLOS

no formal claim

no

Cambodia

UNCLOS

China

all*

all

all

Indonesia

UNCLOS

no

no

Malaysia

UNCLOS

3 islands

no

UNCLOS

Philippines

significant portions

8 islands

no

Taiwan

all*

all

all

Thailand

UNCLOS

Vietnam

all*

all

all

UNCLOS

* excluding buffer zone along littoral states (calculations for buffer unknown)
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Japanese Claims

China and Japan have two disputes, one related to ownership of Daioyu/Senkaku Islands and the other related to demarcation of the sea boundary between the two.

Source: Interfax

Map: Disputed Sea Boundary and Islands- Japan

.

India’s Maritime Engagements with Vietnam and Japan

The Asia –Pacific region is characterised by differing threat perceptions with respect to neighbours as well as countries they perceive as hegemons , they do not like interference by outsiders in their matters and prefer dispute resolution bilaterally or through discussions between the directly involved parties in case there are more than two. They look upon multilateral agreements of the type in vogue in Europe as a sort of military alliances (which were created to resolve military issues) which could lead to military intervention by powers outside the region. With reduction in the deployment of forces by the US, and the end of cold war, there is a sense of void in the maritime security of the region. The broad security concerns of the region with respect to ‘outsiders’ are best summarised in the words of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew of  Singapore, “when there is vacuum in ASEAN maritime security, Japan surely will involve in it, …so will be China, what if India will also send two aircraft carriers to our ocean? If all these happen, the consequence will be turbulent and disaster”. The region therefore prefers cooperative engagement on both economic and defence fronts. The multilateral maritime security arrangements amongst them help to have a positive say in maintaining balance in the region. They look upon, rising China, Japan, India and the US Asia-Pacific shift, to attain a favourable counterbalance in the region leading to peaceful economic growth. In fact these countries engage in maritime security cooperation with England, Russia, Australia and New Zealand also. This approach guarantees them sufficient maritime security in the region while allowing them enough room to manoeuvre between the larger extra regional powers.

Since India does not have any territorial aspirations in the region it is largely perceived as a benign power as well as a large market for their goods and services. India’s look east policy appears to be paying considerable dividends as far as economic integration with Asia-Pacific is concerned. A look at economic indicators with respect to India  reveals that while total trade, as a proportion of the GDP, from US and EU decreased from 12.69% and 20.84% to 8.5% and 15.94% (between FY 2003-04 to FY 2009-10); trade increased from 26.70% to 30.19% with the Asia Pacific region. India’s main concern is its sea borne trade, as about 50% of its east bound trade passes through Malacca Straits and uses routes in the South China Sea/ East Sea and therefore as a part of look east diplomacy India has entered into multifarious agreements with many Asia-pacific countries, bilaterally and multilaterally, including maritime security, cultural and educational exchanges, development programs, defence cooperation and exercises involving all the three services, training, HA/DR, port visits etc. The look east initiative by India is also accepted by USA and the same was articulated by Presidents Barack Obama in his speech to both houses of Indian Parliament in Nov 2010, he said, Like your neighbours in Southeast Asia, we want India not only to “look East,” we want India to “engage East” because it will increase the security and prosperity of all our nations”.

In view of the above, India’s maritime engagements with Vietnam and Japan have to be seen with the backdrop of countries in the Asia-Pacific and the issues affecting their economies.

Vietnam has been a trusted friend and an ally not only historically but also since its independence in 1954.India shares a rich cultural heritage with Vietnam and Vietnam supports India’s political ideology of non alignment. The geographical location of Vietnam on the southern tip of China makes it a strategic partner not only for Japan and the US but also for India. A Joint Declaration of the strategic partnership was signed between the two countries in 2007. India has given a large consignment of spare parts of Petya class of warships to Vietnam, and the periodic port visits to Vietnam by Indian Naval ships ensure an Indian presence in the South China Sea. It is also understood that Brahmos missile has been cleared for export to Vietnam. It has been reported that the Uran missile is likely to be jointly produced by Russia and Vietnam. This missile is already in use on Indian naval ships. With impending opening of the private sector to defence post Choppergate, joint ventures with Vietnamese firms may pay rich dividends for both the countries.

In view of rising tensions due to disputes over island territories and offshore exploration in South China Sea, India has articulated that freedom of navigation in South China Sea has to be respected by all and has supported a collective mechanism to resolve the issues in South China Sea and East Sea. It is imperative that the sea corridor from India to Vietnam through Malacca remains open and unencumbered for free flow of trade. Shri A K Antony, Defence Minister at ADMM+ meeting in Hanoi, in Oct 2010 has said that “The security of sea lanes is important for the Asia-Pacific region, which is now one of the most important drivers of global economic growth….. Cooperative approaches on maritime security would offer benefits for the region as a whole.”

India and Japan have had very cordial relations historically as well as for over 60 years since India’s independence; incidentally Japan was the first country to sign Strategic and Global partnership pact in 2006 with India. In 2010 both countries decided to expand the defence and security cooperation by enhancing the capacity to respond to maritime security challenges through information sharing, multilateral and bilateral exercises, dialogue and training. The prime ministerial meet on 25 Oct 2010 was accompanied by the launch of Japan India Shipping Policy Forum and mutual exchange of schedules of escort operations by Indian Navy and the JSDF.

Cooperation on maritime security issues, which include non-conventional security threats and HA/DR, is one of the pillars of India-Japan bilateral relationship. Japan is also planning to create a multilateral maritime security forum in which India is likely to play a prominent role. China however feels that this strategic partnership would eventually lead to containment of rising China. Li Hongmei in an article titled “India’s ‘Look East Policy’ Means ‘Look to Encircle China’?” in People’s Daily (27 Oct 2010) has written that “by taking advantage of the face-off between China and Japan, India still cannot relax its spasm of worries about China, nor can it brush aside the fear that China might nip its ambitions in the bud”. However there has been no official Chinese response to the strategic maritime security cooperation between Japan and India. Even though bilateral and multilateral naval exercises involving Japan, USA and Australia have been conducted, India on its part has been non-committal towards an alliance with USA, Australia and Japan. The recent Asia-Pacific shift by the US would also, in all probability, help in de-escalating tensions in the South China Sea. India maintains that there is enough space for both the giants in Asia and much can be achieved through economic engagement and cooperation.

Maritime security relationships with both Vietnam and Japan need to be nurtured as they hold the key to freedom of navigation in South China Sea, they also extend the strategic reach of India’s maritime capability up to Japan. The way forward to prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region lies through cooperative engagement and not through escalation of disputes to conflicts which would impede much needed economic growth of nations in the region.

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