The USA, China and India are competing for military dominance of the Indian Ocean. Is ASEAN about to join them? Unlikely. However, the South East Asian block is looking to expand its sphere of engagement East towards the Pacific and West to the Indian Ocean. And this could be an excellent opportunity for Mauritius to establish some strong and mutually advantageous relationships.
The ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific is primarily about participating in economic growth and poverty alleviation in the wider region as well as protecting itself from military confrontations on its doorstep. ASEAN remains largely unaligned and sees itself as “an honest broker within the strategic environment of competing interests” (see AOIP statement). This makes it a perfect economic partner and political ally for Mauritius.
The Mauritian government has been a miserable failure in persuading China to include us in their Belt and Road initiative and so we have been bypassed in their new maritime silk route to Africa. Instead of looking to the Far East, as we did for replacing our airport, we looked to the foolishly looked to the Middle East for the redevelopment of our port. This was a cretinous confusion of religion and politics which got us nowhere. Perhaps with ASEAN’s influence and participation, China could look to us again as its gateway to southern Africa.
Mauritius has a golden opportunity to assert its sovereignty over its outer islands. With the judgement of the International Court of Justice in our favour, we must seek to increase the pressure on the UK to restore the Chagos archipelago to Mauritius. This means seeking allies. As the UK economy struggling with Brexit uncertainty, a new outward looking policy is certain whether the UK remains a part of the EU or not. Naturally it will need to expand its trading partnerships with South East Asia which means ASEAN would be able to exert greater influence, potentially to Mauritius’ advantage.
We Love Mauritius has developed a 3D strategy for the Chagos Islands which balances human rights and environmental protection. The first step is Decolonisation and the return of sovereignty of the whole archipelago to Mauritius. The second is Denuclearisation and the removal of all nuclear weapons from the military base on the main island of Diego Garcia so that Mauritius can confirm its ratification of the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone, which we signed in 1996. The final step is Dual Use whereby the Chagossians be allowed to return to Diego Garcia. This is the only viable long term option for them as the other islands are at increasing risk from sea level rise driven by global warming. We strongly believe the Marine Protected Area should be maintained in order to preserve one of the few pristine ecosystems in the world for the benefit of future generations.
The secretariat for the Indian Ocean Rim Association is located in Mauritius. Our location and the magnitude of our Exclusive Economic Zone, which takes up 2 million square kilometers of the Indian Ocean makes us the logical point of political connection between Africa’s Southern and Eastern communities SADC and EAC. Indeed several ASEAN countries, namely Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia are already members or the IORA. It is high time for Mauritius take up its role as the economic and diplomatic hub of the Indian Ocean.