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No longer enamoured by China, Indian Ocean countries rediscover historic bond with India

Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) donating AN-32 propellers to Sri Lankan Air Force in Colombo on Tuesday (Image courtesy: Indian Embassy in Sri Lanka)

Forging a strong defence partnership with friendly countries and partners in the region, India on Tuesday gifted a Fast Patrol Vessel and a Landing Craft Assault ship to the Maldives and donated propellers of Antonov AN-32 military transport aircraft to Sri Lanka.

Key maritime neighbours, both countries occupy an important place in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strategic vision for the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) guided by Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) and ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy.

Quite significantly, both geo-strategically important nations have also been lured for long by China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) infrastructural projects.

In the Maldives on Tuesday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh took an indirect swipe at Bejing as he conveyed to the Maldivian leadership that India offers an enhanced defence partnership to friendly foreign countries, that is “accommodative of their national priorities and capacities”.

Singh said that India, through a robust defence ecosystem, has significantly enhanced its manufacturing capabilities to further support the capacity building of partner countries.

“India has emerged as a leading defence exporter in recent years. A defence manufacturing ecosystem has been created which has the advantage of abundant technical manpower. We produce world-class equipment to meet not only our own needs, but also for exports,” said Indian Defence Minister in the presence of Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

“We wish to create symbiotic relationships where we can learn from each other, grow together and create a win-win situation for all,” he added.

Singh called for enhanced cooperation among nations in the IOR to address the common challenges faced by the region.

“The Indian Ocean is our shared space. The primary responsibility for peace, stability and prosperity in the region rests with those who live in the region. Peace and security of a region are best secured with cooperation and collaboration of the regional players.”

In not-too-far Colombo, Chief of the Air Staff of the Indian Air Force (IAF) held discussions with the military top brass of Sri Lanka, recalling the longstanding friendship between the two countries just a few hours after it was reported that a Chinese state-owned firm is finalising plan to build a major logistics hub in the island nation.

Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari first called on the Commander of the Lankan Air Force, Air Marshal Sudarshana Pathirana and then met with Vice Admiral Priyantha Perera, Commander of the Sri Lanka Navy.

Highlighting India’s resolute commitment towards capacity building of the Lankan Armed Forces, the IAF chief donated AN-32 propellers to Pathirana at the Katunayake Air Base on behalf of the Indian government.

Discussions on the development of cooperation between regional air forces, joint training, technical knowledge exchange and expansion of maritime surveillance operations followed.

The three Ukrainian-built Antonov-32s were inducted into the Lankan Air Force in 1995 and played a vital role during the bloody 30-year civil war by transporting military personnel, civilians, wounded personnel, essential goods and munitions to and from the northern and eastern theatres.

Last year, an Indian Navy Dornier was handed over to Sri Lanka for a period of two years and was formally inducted by the Lankan Air Force in Colombo on August 15 in the presence of the President of Sri Lanka, High Commissioner of India to Sri Lanka and Vice Chief of Naval Staff.

Also Read: Vessels to harbour — India bolsters coastal defence of key Indian Ocean ally Maldives