The Seychelles has invited China to set up a base to counter piracy in the region, the Seychelles’ Foreign Affairs Minister has announced. The Seychelles hosts anti-piracy forces from other countries, including the United States and India.
Agence France Presse reported Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Paul Adam as saying on Friday that, “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,” he explained.
Adam made the announcement as the Seychelles President James Michel met with visiting Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guanglie. Michel, also the country’s defence minister, said the Seychelles attached great importance to Liang’s visit as it is the first by a Chinese defence minister since the two countries established diplomatic ties 35 years ago.
Liang arrived in Victoria with a 40-strong delegation after having been invited to the Seychelles by Michel in October when he was on a visit to China.
“Together, we need to increase our surveillance capacity in the Indian Ocean…as Seychelles has a strategic position between Asia and Africa,” Michel said in statement.
“We will build on our already excellent relations with increased cooperation in defence. We deeply appreciate the support of the government and people of the People’s Republic of China in our time of need, when we are defending sovereignty in the fight against piracy. We are also very grateful to the government of the People’s Republic of China for the donation of the two Y-12 aircraft this year and also for the support under the military cooperation agreement signed today,” said Michel.
“China has a desire to develop good relations on the principle of peace, equality, and peaceful co-existence, whether it be with a large country or a small country. China has built a harmonious society, and we are working to build a harmonious international community,” said Major General Ci Guowei, Deputy Chief of Foreign Office of the Ministry of National Defence, on behalf of the Chinese military delegation.
China and the Seychelles signed a military cooperation agreement in 2004 that has enabled some 50 Seychelles soldiers to be trained in China. They renewed their agreement on Friday, with China to provide further training and equipment.
Since 2008, Chinese naval vessels have been patrolling the waters off the coast of Somalia. The Chinese navy’s Peace Ark hospital ship visited the Seychelles in November 2010. A total of 139 people were treated onboard with 19 operations carried out. Two Chinese frigates also visited Seychelles for the first time in April this year.
If the Chinese military base goes ahead, “it won’t be the first foreign military presence here because the Americans already have a small drone base here that they use in the fight against piracy,” Adam said.
During Liang’s visit, Michel reiterated the close ties between his nation and China with regard to cooperation in politics, trade, economy and other areas. He said Seychelles’ government will stick to the one-China policy and is willing to work with China to contribute to regional and world peace and stability.
Liang said the Chinese army will work with its Seychelles’ counterpart to promote cooperation and exchanges in army building and military staff training and work vigorously for the further all-round growth of China-Seychelles relations.
Liang earlier visited Ghana and Uganda. Whilst in Kampala, according to Ugandan government sources, he promised US$2.3 million in military aid, including support to troops in the African Union force in Somalia.
Piracy is a major problem in the Indian Ocean, with Somali pirates straying as far south as the Mozambique Channel. With 115 islands scattered over an area of 540 000 square miles, a population of 85,000 and an army of just 500, the Seychelles has been asking for foreign assistance to fight piracy and has hosted maritime patrol aircraft from Portugal, Sweden, India, the United States and other nations.
India, for example, has donated a fast attack vessel to the Seychelles and in February deployed a Dornier 228 to Victoria, the nation’s capital. Last year India promised to give the Seychelles its own Dornier patrol aircraft as well as two HAL Chetak light helicopters. The Dornier, sent to the island earlier this year for 15 months, was intended as a stopgap until HAL hands over a new aircraft to the government.
“Piracy has hampered the economic growth of the Seychelles through the loss of income from economic activities such as maritime tourism, fisheries, and trade in and out of the Seychelles,” Minister for Home Affairs, Environment and Transport Joel Morgan told Reuters earlier this year.
“The pirates pose an extremely serious threat to the Seychelles, both from the national security point of view, and to our economy. We depend heavily on the sea and its resources for our economic activities,” Morgan said.