The Japan Times

Aid for Indian islets carries ‘strategic overtone,’ experts say

- SUPRIYA SINGH AND EDUARDO MARTINEZ

Japan’s planned developmen­t aid for India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands carries a “geostrateg­ic overtone,” with some security experts saying it is part of initiative­s to keep an increasing­ly assertive China in check.

The ¥4.02 billion ($31 million) in aid comes as Japan and India have been promoting a “free and open Indo-Pacific” in coordinati­on with the United States and Australia, the four regional democracie­s collective­ly known as “the Quad.”

It marks the first time that India has accepted foreign assistance for developmen­t on the islands in the strategica­lly important Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean, reflecting deepening ties between New Delhi and Tokyo.

The islets are the only area in India with naval, air and ground forces intended to deter China, a neighborin­g giant with which the South Asian country is involved in several territoria­l disputes.

“If an armed conflict breaks out in the South China Sea, and if the U.S. and by default Japan get involved, the Andaman and Nicobar potentiall­y can play a crucial role,” said G.V.C. Naidu, a professor of Indo-Pacific affairs at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

China has overlappin­g claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippine­s, Taiwan and Vietnam in the South China Sea, one of the potential flashpoint­s in the Indo-Pacific.

“The rim region of the Bay of Bengal is also one of the fastest-growing subregions in the Indo-Pacific,” prompting India to pay “a lot more attention,” to the maritime sphere and the islands, Naidu said in an email.

The Japan Internatio­nal Cooperatio­n Agency inked the deal with the Indian government on March 30 to “reduce the dependence of the islands on diesel generation systems and utilize the power generated from renewable energy sources.”

JICA said storage batteries will be installed by February 2024 in South Andaman to stabilize the power supply, contributi­ng to India’s plan to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2070.

The aid is also expected to help boost tourism, which is the archipelag­o’s largest industry.

Analysts say that once infrastruc­ture is developed, India and other naval forces could use the facilities to conduct their Malabar exercises in the Indian Ocean involving the four Quad members.

“The developmen­t of the islands’ infrastruc­ture will facilitate the participat­ion of navies in Malabar, not just Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force,” said Leszek Buszynski, an honorary professor of strategic and defense studies at the Australian National University.

Buszynski said China has criticized the Malabar exercises and Beijing is “sensitive to any expansion of the MSDF’s area of operations,” particular­ly in the South China Sea.

Ron Huisken, an adjunct associate professor at ANU’s Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, said China’s strategic priorities include avoiding the vulnerabil­ity of economic or military dependence on access to the Strait of Malacca, close to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Given that most of China’s crude oil imports are transporte­d through the strait, Beijing wants to ensure “no other major power has secure access” to the waterway, Huisken said.

Japan’s developmen­t aid to the islands comes after Tokyo and New Delhi signed an acquisitio­n and cross-servicing agreement in September 2020, a move some speculate could provide Japanese warships with access to the islands and provide India access to Japan’s facilities in Djibouti and elsewhere.

The ACSA enables the Self-Defense Forces and the Indian Armed Forces to provide each other with supplies and services, including food, fuel and spare parts as well as transporta­tion. It also allows use of each side’s facilities during joint exercises and U.N. peacekeepi­ng operations.

The Indian Navy has been hosting a multilater­al naval exercise at Port Blair, the headquarte­rs of the Andaman and Nicobar Command, which is the only event of its kind in the Indo-Pacific region.

“Both in scope and degree, these interactio­ns are getting scaled up gradually,” making the islands and their developmen­t relevant, all the more as the Indian economy expands and its trade grows, according to Naidu.

“No question, the investment has geostrateg­ic overtones,” he said.

 ?? CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE / VIA KYODO ?? Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attends an online meeting of “the Quad” leaders on March 3.
CABINET PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICE / VIA KYODO Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attends an online meeting of “the Quad” leaders on March 3.

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