Sea Transportation: Chinese Foreign Naval Bases


December 8, 2011:  Much to the irritation of India, the island nation of Seychelles has asked China to establish a military base in the Seychelles if China will help keep Somali pirates away. The presence of these pirates has hurt the local economy, and any help is appreciated. Seychelles has sent about a hundred of its troops to China for training. A year ago, a Chinese hospital ship visited and treated over a hundred people. Chinese warships going to, or from, Somalia have stopped for visits. But a base would be another matter, and something India wants to avoid. Seychelles is 1,500 kilometers off the African coast and 3,000 kilometers southwest of India.

Earlier this year, India sent a Dornier 228 maritime reconnaissance aircraft to the Seychelles, to help in dealing with Somali pirates. This aircraft will remain for at least two years. Last year, India had offered to give Seychelles a Dornier 228 and two Chetak helicopters for anti-piracy duty, but tiny Seychelles preferred that India simply operate this equipment on their territory until the Somali piracy threat is gone. India has already sent a naval patrol boat and one Chetak helicopter to the Seychelles to help with anti-piracy patrol. Indian warships are also coming by more frequently. India has also pledged $5 million in other military aid for the Seychelles. The U.S. is already operating Reaper UAVs and P-3 maritime patrol aircraft on the Seychelles, to search for Somali pirates operating in the area.

The Seychelles islands have a total population of 85,000 and no military power to speak of. They are largely defenseless against pirates. So are many of the ships moving north and south off the East Coast of Africa. Three years ago, Somali pirates began operating as far east as the Seychelles, which are a group of 115 islands 1,500 kilometers from the east African coast. India is making this effort because the Somali pirates are a threat to Indian shipping and the Seychelles are a neighbor it wants to remain on good terms with.

China, in the meantime, has resisted other invitations to establish naval bases in the Indian Ocean, and requests from senior Chinese admirals for such bases. But as the Seychelles offer indicates, the clamor, and opportunity, for Chinese foreign naval bases simply continues. The most compelling call for such bases is coming from Chinese businesses, increasingly worried about the safety of Indian Ocean shipping lanes.

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