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China announces Indian Ocean naval base in Seychelles

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 13 December 2011 08:00 No Comment]

China on Monday announced setting up its first naval base abroad at Seychelles in the Indian Ocean.  The former British colony, Seychelles, lies in parallel to the Maldives and the US-British base Diego Garcia in the East, the Somalian coast of Africa in the West, Gulf of Aden/ entrance to the Red Sea in the north, and Indian dominated Mauritius as well as the French colony Reunion in the South. While the Chinese defence ministry announced that its Navy would seek supplies and recuperate facilities through the base, the Seychelles foreign minister said that his country had invited China to set the base to fight against piracy. The base gains significance, as China is about to launch its first aircraft carrier, Hindustan Times said. Tamils are one of the peoples of Seychelles, locally known by the name Malba (from Malabar, a term common to Tamils and Malayalis in colonial vocabulary).

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Seychelles: location in the Indian Ocean [Image Courtesy: Google Earth, Legend by TamilNet]

China struck the deal to set its first foreign naval base in Seychelles, when the Chinese defence minister Gen Liang Guanglie visited Seychelles earlier this month.

But playing down its significance, China compared it to the facilities it presently gets from the harbours of Djibouti, Oman and Yemen in the region, Hindustan Times said.

Meanwhile, revealing the plans on the base, the Seychelles foreign minister Jean-Paul Adam was quoted saying, "We have invited the Chinese government to set up a military presence on Mahe to fight the pirate attacks that the Seychelles face on a regular basis."

"For the time being China is studying this possibility because she has economic interests in the region and Beijing is also involved in the fight against piracy," the foreign minister further said.

According to China’s news agency Xinhua, during the visit of the Chinese defence minister, the two sides exchanged views on the cooperation of their militaries as well as on the global and regional situation.

Seychelles appreciated China’s efforts to maintain safe navigation on the Indian Ocean and the support it had granted to Seychelles, Xinhua said.

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Victoria, capital of Seychelles in the Mahe island. [Image courtesy: Google Earth]

For several decades when the people of Somalia suffered from war and famine the world couldn’t bring in any solutions to the suffering people and their nation. But Somalian piracy, who ever orchestrates it behind the scenes, has now become an excuse for all the powers to bring in their resources and military presence to the region, commented an Eezham Tamil political analyst.

Genocidal Sri Lanka’s defence secretary and presidential sibling Gotabhaya Rajapaksa too harps on ‘piracy’ to expand a Sinhala navy, ostensibly to complete the genocide of Eezham Tamils and eventually to check Tamil Nadu as well as any future moves coming from India in favour of Eezham Tamils.

Occupying Sinhala military in Jaffna was recently heard bragging of their ‘diplomacy’ of granting the KKS harbour to India, but bringing in a Chinese corporate to occupy the coastal belt around the harbour through a Malaysian company.

China seems to have opted Maldives out for its naval base to avoid direct confrontation with India. The cultural milieu of Maldives is also not conducive to China. Seychelles has better resources to make use of and better location to enter into Africa. Besides, there is a small population of people of Chinese origin in Seychelles.

However, China is making its importance felt in the Maldives in some other way.

Apart from Chinese development projects and a newly established embassy in the Maldives, Chinese tourists have become the main source of income to the Maldives in recent times, with the decline of Western tourism due to economic recession. In a way China has now become indispensable to the economy of Maldives.

In the meantime, China acquired 10,000 sq.km of seabed in the international part of the Indian Ocean, by signing a contract with the International Seabed Authority of the UN, for exploring minerals over the next 15 years.

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The volcanic granite hills of Seychelles [Image Courtesy: Panorama/Google Earth]

Seychelles archipelago, having 115 islands of volcanic and coral origin, was largely uninhabited in historical times. Stray archaeological evidences indicate that there were perhaps occasional visits of Austronesian seafarers, Maldivians and Arabs.

An early archaeological remain found in Seychelles is a Maldivian boat of 12th century CE. Seychelles and Diego Garcia (Chagos) are remembered in Maldivian folklore as the islands of magical double coconut and Bolha-vehi respectively.

The islands were noticed by the Portuguese in the 16th century and were colonized by the French in the 18th century. The British captured it in the early 19th century.

Seychelles became independent from Britain in 1976.

Having a population of less than 100,000, all the peoples of Seychelles today are of immigrant origins. Apart from the descendants of the French and the British, there are peoples of African, Indian and Chinese origins. People of African origin and mixed ethnicities make the largest part of the population, while Malbas (Tamils/ Indians) and Chinese are small in number.

People speak Seychellois Creole (a mixture of languages) besides English and French.

Seychelles had a one-party socialist government between 1979 and 1991, giving way to the present multi-party democratic constitution of presidential system of government.

The Malbas or Indians, who are largely people of Tamil origin, have not preserved their language, but the identity is mainly retained through the Tamil shade of Hindu religion.

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The Tamil temple at Victoria in Seychelles. A former teacher of Jaffna Hindu College, Mr. V. Sivasubramaniam, who later served for long in the education ministry of Seychelles, contributed significantly to the present structure of the temple dedicated to Pi’l'laiyaar. [Image Courtesy: Panorama/Google Earth]

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