NEW DELHI: The defence agreement signed between U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Reed Werner and Maldivian Minister of Defense Mariya Didi on September 10 is “very significant and India couldn’t have asked for anything better,” says Vice Admiral Anup Singh (Retd), former Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Naval Command. Speaking to StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi, the ex-Deputy Chief of Naval Staff added that this framework security partnership with the Maldives and U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper’s call to Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on September 11 has “one common thread, a message to China, which will spread all across the Indian Ocean Region.” Admiral Singh noted that “things have changed since 2013, including India’s mindset.” He was referring to India reportedly putting the brakes on a 2013 U.S. proposal for a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Maldives. China had “for all practical purposes leased an island in the Maldives, was reclaiming land and building dual use infrastructure, Admiral Singh pointed out, so the agreement dovetails with India’s military cooperation with the archipelago nation that includes joint Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) surveillance, installing coastal radars, institutionalised joint exercises and focus on the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
The ex-deputy head of the Integrated Defence Staff drew attention to “far too much alarming Chinese activity in Bangladesh, including the sale of two Chittagong based submarines and the strings attached.”
China, Admiral Singh concluded, “will not have an easy ride in the Indian Ocean” despite its numeric naval advantage over the Indian Navy. “We do require numbers but because of our peninsular structure, the advantage of geography, unsustainably long Chinese supply and logistical distances, the strategic assets of the Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands, radars in the Maldives and Seychelles and Beijing’s Achilles heel in the Malacca Strait, he says, India has the edge.”