Diego Garcia American base

READER’S VIEWS - The Freeman

The American Armed Forces have over 800 military bases in 70 countries. One of the least known but most important in the struggle with China is the Chagos Archipelago in the central Indian Ocean.

In 1544 Diego Garcia de Moguer of Spain discovered the uninhabited atolls. French colonizers took slaves from Madagascar to labor some plantations, but after the defeat of their naval fleet at Trafalgar in 1805 and Napoleon’s defeat in Russia in 1812, the British took over the archipelago of about 1,000 islets divided into seven distinct atolls in 1814. The 2,000 or so Chagossian slaves labored for the British Empire until 1965 when the Chagos Archipelago became a British Indian Ocean Territory the status it holds until today.

When during the Cold War the Soviets reached out to African nations, the Americans negotiated with the British the permission to establish a military base on the main atoll Diego Garcia. It is shaped like an elongated horseshoe with a deeper sea in its center and an opening in the north. There all kinds of warships even airplane carriers can enter the 20-kilometer-long port area. On the surrounding coral flanks even the fearsome stealth bombers can land and take off. About 3,000 American troops are permanently stationed there.

The strategic importance is the central location in the Indian Ocean. French held Amsterdam, Kerguelen and Reunion Island and Australia’s Heard Island and South Africa’s Prince Edward Island all have strong owners. Since there are no other islands around, China will have a hard time to find a stepping stone to reach the Antarctic where they hope to extract minerals as soon as the ice sheet will have melted.

The only concern is The Republic of Mauritius, its Rodrigues Island and several other islands that it disputes with UK and France. But relations with the European Union are strong and with France particularly friendly.

Relations with India are very strong for historical and commercial reasons. PM Narendra Modi visited the island nation on April 19, 2018.

Diplomatic relations with China were established in 1972. A Free Trade Agreement entered into effect on January 1, 2021. It is the first between an African nation and China. Observers are concerned that the balance of trade is in China’s favor by a factor of over 30. The agreement contains a 3-years development strategy that aims to shift the island’s reliance away from Europe and achieve further economic penetration towards the East.

There is one factor that China must fear, that is the Republic’s unshakable democratic orientation. In the 2020 Democracy Index, Mauritius ranked 20th among 167 nations, thus a full democracy, the only in Africa (RP ranked 55th). It is a high-income country. It is part of the World Trade Organization and scores high in fair trade and observing rules.

China could learn a lot from a nation that has four ethnic groups belonging to six religions living together in peace and mutual respect.

Erich Wannemacher

Lapu-Lapu City


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