In a Press Release from Seychelles, it was announced that Sir James Mancham, the founding President, has been invited to participate in the “Global Hotspots, Insiders Briefing” program on May 3-5, 2012, at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Sir James Mancham will deliver a keynote address, pertaining to the “Indian Ocean—China’s growing influence in the zone, the American military presence in Diego Garcia and the question of piracy”.
I first became acquainted with Sir James Mancham when I was U.S. ambassador accredited to the Republic of Seychelles from 2002 to 2005. Mancham was the first president of this island nation, shortly after independence in 1976. He was deposed in a coup d’etat on June 5, 1977. He lived in exile until April 1992, returning to become actively involved in the political process by running for president. Although he was not elected, he has remained involved as a diplomat on the world stage, championing peace initiatives. He is astute, and well versed on the Indian Ocean region issues.
I had invited Sir James Mancham as the keynote speaker at the Hinckley Institute, University of Utah and Westminster College, both located in Salt Lake City, Utah; where we sponsor a lecture series on Foreign Policy and Citizen Diplomacy. Having served on the Hoover Board of Overseers, a distinguished institution, I was pleased that they have selected such a world class statesman.
In my book “When the White House Calls”, I go into great detail on the history of the Seychelles, the political and economic environment facing this island nation; and insightful interviews with Sir James Mancham, on global issues. Below is a short Commentary posted on my website on December 28, 2011: “China’s base in the Seychelles—It Should Be No Surprise”, to acquaint the reader with this strategic archipelago in the Indian Ocean.
Posted on December 28th, 2011 | 1 Comments
The Tribune (India). [Editorial]. 15/12/2011.
A fresh challenge for India
China continues to plan and execute its strategic projects in different parts of Asia and elsewhere to expand its area of influence as a major world power. The latest is its military base in Seychelles, ostensibly established following a request from the government of this tiny island nation. It is China’s first overseas base of its kind, which is linked to its first aircraft carrier to be launched soon. The Chinese military presence in Seychelles should also be seen against the backdrop of Beijing’s anti-sea piracy operations going to begin shortly along with Thailand and Myanmar. The Chinese explanation is that it has gone ahead with its Seychelles project because it needed “safe navigation” facilities in the Indian Ocean region. China has such refueling facilities in Oman and Yemen, too.
But New Delhi has reasons to feel disturbed as Seychelles, not far away from India, also has a US drone base. Besides Seychelles, the US has a major military base in Diego Garcia. Earlier, it was the US which was accused of contributing to the militarization of the Indian Ocean region. Now China has started playing the same role. China’s activities in the region will be more visible now as, besides its Seychelles base, it has signed a contract with the UN-backed International Seabed Authority for the exploration of polymetallic sulphide ore deposits in the Indian Ocean for 15 years.
It is not only India but Japan and Vietnam will also be closely watching China’s moves to gain considerable naval strength in the region. Vietnam cannot take the development kindly as China unfairly protested against the recent pact that India signed with Vietnam for the exploration of gas and oil in the South China Sea. For India, the establishment of China’s military base in Seychelles appears to be linked to its strategy of having a string of pearls around India. But for countries like Vietnam, Singapore and the others in the ASEAN grouping, it is part of Chinese over-assertiveness to make them realize that they must learn to live with Chinese dominance in the region. These countries are looking towards India to play its rightful balancing role. India must not let them down.
It Should Be No Surprise
As noted in my book “When the White House Calls”, on February 6, 2007, Sir James Mancham, former president of the Republic of Seychelles, met with United Press International in Mahe, just before President Hu Jintao of the Republic of China made his official visit to the island nation. China has a growing interest, both economically and militarily, in sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean region, as reflected in Mancham’s remarks:
“President Hu Jintao of the People’s Republic of China will pay an official state visit to the islands after a tour of eight African countries. For China, each country Hu visits will be to reaffirm negotiations for raw materials, energy supplies, aid assistance, debts forgiveness, and negotiations, which is aimed to secure China’s quest for global positioning. China needs a military base in the Indian Ocean. It is considered that the Seychelles has the best global position for her need in Africa and the Indian Ocean region.”
During Hu Jintao’s visit he established some far reaching economic agreements and left $20 million to show his good faith, to this small island nation of 80,000 inhabitants. He also promised follow-up meetings with some of his top ministers and military leaders to further solidify their agreements. In September 2007, Colonel Leopold Payet of the Seychelles People’s Defense Forces went to Beijing to come to an agreement on behalf of his government for more China-Seychelles military cooperation in the Indian Ocean.
Seychelles are entering a new day on the global stage, which hopefully after a long chapter under autocratic rule, since the 1977 Marxist coup d’ etat, will not now put this fledgling democracy under the domination of China.