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China Check-Mating America

The Seychelles archipelago.
by James R Mancham
UPI Outside View Commentator
(first of two parts)
Mahe, Seychelles (UPI) Feb 06, 2007
Britain and France fought over the Seychelles Islands in the 19th century, not for its natural beauty but because of the strategic location on the important trading route to the East Indies. Today, more than ever before, the Seychelles archipelago is caught in the web of global politics. On Feb. 9 and 10 President Hu Jintao of the People's Republic of China will pay an official State visit to the Islands after a tour of eight African countries.

For China, each country Hu visits will be to reaffirm negotiations for raw materials, energy supplies, aid assistance, debts forgiveness and negotiations, which is aimed to secure China's quest for global positioning. Put it another way, to add another piece to the puzzle of replacing the United States as the only superpower in the world.

China needs a military base in the Indian Ocean. It is considered that the Seychelles has the best global position for her need in Africa and the Indian Ocean region. President Hu's visit to Seychelles is not a PRC's first step in that direction, but a culmination of events and a finale of sorts.

A confirmation of Seychelles strategic dimension was projected in a special report of limited circulation issued following the Falkland Islands war by U.S. Admiral Hanks who was a Director of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Washington, D.C. after retiring as Naval Chief-of-Staff commanding the U.S. forces which were based in Bahrain in the 1960s.

Hanks argued that the British became victorious in the Falkland Islands war against Argentina because of the control of Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic, between Brazil and West Africa. There they were able to make use of an enormous American-built runway to launch their attacks against Argentina's Navy and other enemy targets.

Hanks argued that every small Island in the ocean could be considered like an "unsinkable aircraft carrier." An Island could be utilized as a launching pad for rockets aimed at enemies' territory within its reach. Taking into account the fact that the Republic of Seychelles 110 Islands are scattered over a wide surface of the Western Indian Ocean, which includes a vital oil route and taking into account that important oil producing Nations are within rocket striking distance, the geo-political importance of Seychelles cannot be under-estimated.

After World War II, the Western Indian Ocean was more or less a western lake with the British in Tricomalee (Sri Lanka), in the Maldives, in Mauritius, in Seychelles, in Mombasa (Kenya) whilst the French were in Madagascar, in La Reunion, in the Comoros and in Djibouti - in the Horn of Africa. The decision of the British to pull out of East of Suez was taken against the background of an agreement that the U.S. should fill the vacuum that was to be left behind.

Thus, did the British change the status of the Chagos archipelago which was a dependency of Mauritius on the eve of the latter's independence, into a new sort of colony which they styled the "British Indian Ocean Territory," after transferring all the inhabitants of Chagos to Mauritius for re-settlement. It is there that the Americans were allowed to build the most modern military air force and naval base on the Island of Diego Garcia which lies about 600 miles east of the Seychelles.

This coral atoll has been turned into a vital U.S. strategic base capable of accommodating B-52 strategic bombers. Yet, if the U.S. military strategists had their choice, the U.S. base would have been situated in the Seychelles, which is spread over 200,000sq miles of ocean. The original idea was for the base to be built on the Seychelles Island of Aldabra, which is considered the most strategic place in the zone, closer to the Horn of Africa.

However, the British and the Americans shifted further eastward to Diego Garcia following intense pressure from the conservationists in Britain and the U.S. who wanted at all costs to preserve the quality of life of the booby birds and the giant tortoises who are the sole inhabitants of Aldabra.

At the end of the Cold War, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright decided to close down the U.S. Embassy in Seychelles on the pretext that savings were necessary within her State Department budget, if she was to open up new embassies in Eastern European Nations which had formed part of the Soviet bloc. This was indeed a penny-wise pound foolish decision on the part of the only superpower in the world.

For more than 30 years during the Cold War, the U.S. operated a vital Tracking Station which "spied" over the USSR from Mahe, Seychelles. It could be argued that had there been physical confrontation USA/USSR the Island of Mahe in Seychelles could have been a prime target for destruction. It can therefore also be argued that the Seychelles was a significant contributor to the ultimate defeat of international communism. It was therefore most unfortunate that the Seychelles was to be one of the first victims of the U.S. emergence as the only superpower in the world. It certainly sent across the message that the U.S. was only interested in their "national interest" and not in a foreign policy based on respect for the sovereignty of Nations however big or small.

(James R. Mancham is a special correspondent.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

Source: United Press International

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