China And Diego Garcia: Why India Will Be Closely Watching Mauritius Prime Minister's US Visit
India will be closely monitoring the visit by Mauritius Prime Minister to the US while supporting the continued operation of the US military base at Diego Garcia, to counterbalance China's growing presence and influence in the region.
Pravind Jugnauth, the Prime Minister of Mauritius, is currently visiting the United States to hold talks with President Joe Biden.
The visit has the potential to be an important moment in the ongoing dispute over the sovereignty of the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean, which includes the strategically important island of Diego Garcia.
The island is currently leased by the United States for use as a military base, but Mauritius has long claimed sovereignty over the archipelago.
The dispute between the United Kingdom (UK) and Mauritius over the Chagos archipelago dates back decades.
In 1965, the UK excised the islands from Mauritius and granted the country its independence, while also establishing the British Indian Ocean Territory and leasing Diego Garcia to the US.
To separate Chagos from Mauritius, the UK was required to ensure that there was no permanent population on the islands, and therefore forcibly deported the Chagossians who lived there.
For Mauritius, gaining sovereignty over the Chagos archipelago would be a major political victory and could also bring significant economic benefits.
The country's leaders have frequently cited the rights of the Chagossians, who were forcibly removed from the islands in the 1960s and 1970s, as a key reason for seeking sovereignty.
In recent years, Mauritius has indicated that it would allow the US to continue operating the military base at Diego Garcia if the UK agrees to transfer sovereignty of the Chagos archipelago to Mauritius.
It has suggested that the Chagossians would be resettled on nearby islands if sovereignty were regained, rather than being allowed to return to Diego Garcia.
Experts have seen this as an attempt by Mauritius to reassure the US and signal its willingness to allow the US to retain Diego Garcia.
The US has a significant military and intelligence presence on Diego Garcia, and the island has played a key role in US military operations in the region.
Some have argued that a reduction in American forces on the island could disrupt the military balance in the western Indian Ocean and potentially undermine efforts to uphold a rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region in the face of an increasingly assertive China.
Over the last decade, China's massive investments in the Indian Ocean Region have enabled it to expand its presence in littoral states.
In East Africa (or the western Indian Ocean), where it also launched its first foreign military base in Djibouti in 2017, China has investments in at least 17 ports, giving it a robust presence in the western Indian Ocean.
India is building a military base of its own on Mauritius' Agalega Island.
Given the competing interests involved, finding a resolution to the sovereignty dispute that satisfies both the UK and Mauritius, as well as the US and India, is a challenge.
One potential solution could be the implementation of joint management of the Chagos archipelago by the UK and Mauritius, which would allow the US to maintain access to the military facilities on Diego Garcia while also addressing the sovereignty claims of both countries.
As the lease on Diego Garcia is set to expire in 2036, it is in the interests of all parties to find a solution to the sovereignty dispute sooner rather than later.
The visit of the Prime Minister of Mauritius to the US could provide an opportunity for progress on this issue and potentially pave the way for a resolution that satisfies the interests of all involved.
India, which has significant influence in Mauritius, will be closely monitoring the visit. New Delhi has expressed support for Mauritius in its efforts to regain sovereignty over the Chagos archipelago, including the island of Diego Garcia.
However, India has also indicated that it would like to see the US continue to maintain a military presence as it views the presence of American forces as a critical component of regional security and stability.
One of the main reasons for India's support for the US military presence in the region is the growing influence of China in the Indian Ocean.
India has traditionally been the dominant power in the region, with strong security relationships with island nations such as the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and the Seychelles.
However, China has been increasing its economic and military presence in the region in recent years.
By supporting the continued operation of the US military base at Diego Garcia, India hopes to counterbalance China's growing presence and influence and maintain its own position as a regional power.
It is worth noting that India's support for the US military presence in the region is not necessarily at odds with its support for Mauritius in the sovereignty dispute.
It is possible that India could support a solution that allows Mauritius to regain sovereignty over the Chagos archipelago while also supporting an arrangement which allows the US to continue operating the base at Diego Garcia.
Such a solution would likely involve some form of joint management or cooperation between the UK, Mauritius, and the US, which could address the sovereignty claims of Mauritius while also maintaining the military balance in the region, which India would like to preserve.
It must be noted that the UK has recently decided to begin negotiations with Mauritius regarding the future of the Chagos archipelago.
The UK's decision to enter negotiations with Mauritius is a significant shift in policy, as it has previously refused to accept the rulings of international courts.
The International Court of Justice and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea have both ruled that the UK's claim to the archipelago is illegal, and have called for the UK to transfer sovereignty to Mauritius.
The UK has argued that these rulings were advisory in nature, but as it has sought to uphold the importance of international law in other areas, this position has become increasingly untenable.
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