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India establishes new Indian Ocean naval base

India has established a new naval base on an island off its southwest coast. India wants to bolster its presence in the Indian Ocean amid growing concerns about China’s expanding footprint in strategic waters and declining ties with the Maldives.

The base is called INS Jatayu and is located on the southernmost island of Minicoy in the Lakshadweep Islands in India, which straddles major trade routes. This will be India’s second naval base in the archipelago, closer to the Maldives.

According to the Press Trust of India, Indian Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Hari Kumar said after the commissioning of the base on Wednesday (March 6) that amid the current geopolitical developments, it is important to recognize the need for enhanced surveillance. The urgent need is critical.

The Indian Navy said the new base was “part of efforts to strengthen security infrastructure on the strategically important island.”

The announcement of the new naval base comes as the Maldives begins to move closer to New Delhi’s rival China under a new government that came to power in November.

The Maldives Defense Ministry said on Tuesday it had signed an agreement with China to provide military assistance to the archipelago but did not provide details. The Maldives has recently requested that India withdraw approximately 80 security personnel stationed in the archipelago, responsible for operating helicopters and other aircraft utilized in surveillance and rescue operations.

Analysts say the new base on Minicoi will be a strategic counterattack against China, which New Delhi suspects will strengthen its military presence in the Maldives as the two countries rapidly establish strategic ties.

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Over the past decade, New Delhi has grown increasingly concerned that Chinese infrastructure projects in places like Hambantota Port in neighboring Sri Lanka and Gwadar Port in Pakistan are bringing China’s Asian rival closer to India’s coastline.

“China’s foray into the Indian Ocean is worrisome. By establishing such a base, India hopes to avoid a situation in which China gains dominance on the western side of the Indian Ocean,” said Sriram Cholia, dean of the Jindal School of International Affairs. (Sreeram Chaulia) said.

The opening of the new naval base comes a week after Mauritius and India inaugurated an Indian-funded airstrip and jetty on the small island of Agalega. Mauritius is an outpost in the Indian Ocean, strategically located close to Africa. Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth denied reports that Agalega would be used as a military base but said the infrastructure would help modernize and enhance security.

Analysts say India could use airstrips and terminals to facilitate air and maritime patrols in the southwest Indian Ocean, a transit point on key sea routes. Oman has also granted India access to its Duqm port for logistics and support work to boost its naval presence in the western Indian Ocean.

“India wants to project power further and further away from Indian shores,” Cholia said. “The long-term goal is to pre-emptively prevent China’s aggression in the region, but we must also demonstrate our leadership in the region by protecting maritime traffic lanes and combating the threat of piracy to merchant shipping.” Analysts pointed out that

China’s improving India’s naval capabilities has become a major focus of India’s growing presence in the Indian Ocean. Relations between the two Asian giants have soured in recent years after a fierce military standoff along the Himalayan border. The Indian Ocean is a highly strategic waterway for both countries, carrying energy and other trade.

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India had earlier been focusing on strengthening its land borders due to “increased operations by our adversaries in the Indian Ocean region and the commercial importance of the region,” Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said on Tuesday. It is now “rebalancing its military resources.” He was inaugurating a new building at the Naval War College in Goa.

He said India will ensure that no one can exercise hegemony in the Indian Ocean region. “The Navy is ensuring that no country has overwhelming economic and military power that can dominate friendly countries or threaten their sovereignty,” Singh said.

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