The Seychelles Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced December 2, 2011 that the Government has invited China to establish a naval base for anti-piracy operations. The announcement comes as China’s defence minister General Liang Guanglie visits the island state for the first time. The Seychelles has appealed to other governments in the past for military assistance and cooperation on anti-piracy.
During the visit China pledged further military assistance to the Seychelles. Liang announced that China would donate two Y-12 aircraft, the latest in a series of military aid packages offered since the two governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Defence Cooperation in 2004.
While New Delhi has yet to issue an official public statement, it may follow the same response given to China’s expanded footprint in the Maldives. Previously in October, India expressed concerns regarding the establishment of a Chinese embassy in the Maldives as well as plans that Beijing would develop the island’s ports and airport. In a conflicting stance, India’s defence minister A. K. Antony informed the media that he was not worried about the establishment of an embassy. Nonetheless, he expressed concerns of enhanced Chinese military capabilities.
Given that the establishment of a naval base on the Seychelles would be a military activity, New Delhi may be provoked to give a much firmer response. It should be noted that the Indian Navy operates surveillance aircraft in the Seychelles. According to The Times of India New Delhi has Dornier maritime patrol aircraft and Chetak helicopters based in the Seychelles to enhance the navy’s anti-piracy operations off the coast of Africa. Given that the Seychelles has engaged in discussion with various countries on military cooperation and basing rights, India may attempt to re-assert itself with perhaps more diplomatic and material support to ensure that its relations with the Seychelles is not eclipsed by China’s efforts. It is also likely that the Seychelles is not making any serious alignments to any particular power but is rather using its strategic position to play off multiple governments in an effort to secure more aid and security assurances.
In summary, China’s expanding diplomatic, economic and military overtures in the Indian Ocean are increasingly overlapping with India’s interests. The Seychelle’s latest offer to Beijing may only fuel further speculation and suspicion that China is encroaching on India’s traditional sphere of influence.
 “Seychelles invites China to set up anti-piracy base”, Radio Netherlands Worldwide (02 December 2011) < http://www.rnw.nl/africa/bulletin/seychelles-invites-china-set-anti-piracy-base>
 “China pledges to increase military assistance to Seychelles”, Defence Professionals (02 December 2011) < http://www.defpro.com/news/details/30357/?SID=9a7c672ada02bef4f1873de2c4a66722>
 “China’s stepped up moves in Maldives worry India”, The Times of India (10 October 2011) < http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-10-10/india/30262896_1_indian-military-surveillance-systems-ins-tillanchang-maldives>
 “India not worried over China’s new embassy in Maldives: A K Antony”, The Economic Times < http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-11-15/news/30401672_1_new-embassy-defence-capabilities-maldives>
 “Indian Navy deploys surveillance aircraft in Seychelles”, The Times of India (24 February 2011) < http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-02-24/india/28627242_1_seychelles-anti-piracy-indian-navy>
Wilson's publication, "Examining China's Participation in Bilateral and Multilateral Military Exercises", Security Challenges Journal 7, no. 3 (2011), won first prize in the Australia Defence Business Review's 2011 Young Strategic Writers' Competition (article is available for download at www.securitychallenges.org.au).
Wilson completed a conjoint degree in LLB (Hons) and BA (Hons) at the University of Auckland. He was a summer research scholar at the Australian National University's Centre for Strategic and Defence Studies and interned with the Lowy Institute of International Policy. His area of expertise includes the South China Sea, China-India relations, and China's military modernisation.
Wilson Chau has 11 post(s) on Asia Security Watch