Mauritius finds itself at the centre of an unexpected power struggle between two global giants: the United States and China. In an article published in the UK’s Daily Mail, renowned analyst Mark Almond sheds light on this unlikely scenario, highlighting the increasing significance of Mauritius in the geopolitical landscape.
NEWSMORIS republishes his enlightening article in public interest:
By Mark Almond
To most of us, Mauritius is a holiday paradise, a nirvana for eco-tourists and honeymooners far removed from the slings of world politics and global crises.
But this balmy island in the Indian Ocean is now the unlikely epicentre of a chilling power struggle between America and China.
At the heart of this rivalry is the remote Chagos Archipelago. It’s uninhabited except for the island of Diego Garcia, which hosts a major Anglo-American military base.
Owned by the Ministry of Defence but loaned to the US, it is Washington’s most important asset in the vast Indo-Pacific region west of Pearl Harbor.
Looking north, all of America’s main rivals sit within range of its B-52 bombers there. From Diego Garcia, Iraq and Afghanistan could be bombed from the base’s two-mile-long runway.
The US could even launch cruise missiles deep into Russia’s vulnerable southern flank or towards China. Their warplanes can reach vital shipping channels, trade routes and even potential Chinese bases everywhere from Djibouti to Pakistan.
In other words, the security of the West rests on this 27 square kilometre atoll.
But Britain and America’s control of Diego Garcia is in peril – at a time when China’s President Xi Jinping has set his sights on the island.
What’s this got to do with Mauritius, which is more than a thousand miles south-west of Diego Garcia?
The UK claimed Mauritius from France in the 19th Century and it remained a British colony until 1968.
But in the 1960s and 1970s, Britain removed the local population from the Chagos Archipelago to make way for the US base on Diego Garcia. Whitehall’s reason was to house Washington’s strategic airbase and listening post there so it could keep an eye on the Soviet Union from the south.
Back then, Mauritius had no say in the fate of its remote island dependencies. But the global order has changed and the world has woken up to the Mauritian’s rallying cries.
After all, Britain condemns Vladimir Putin for flouting international law by grabbing chunks of Ukraine – we have been hoist with our own rule-of-law petard.
In 2019, the International Court of Justice, the United Nations’ highest court, ruled that the British occupation of the islands was unlawful. Last year, Liz Truss set in motion negotiations with Mauritius over a handover of the Chagos Islands.
Now Britain is on the brink of handing over sovereignty. But America doesn’t want to give away its crucial strategic asset on Diego Garcia – since, until now, the US Navy has been the dominant force in the Indian Ocean. Mauritius is currently bargaining with Washington over giving it a lease to the Archipelago – at a price.
And in a move that could dramatically inflame diplomatic tensions, China is courting Mauritius too.
Xi has been pouring investments into Mauritius, developing its tourist infrastructure and buying friends and influence there.
Many Mauritians are of Chinese heritage, a legacy of a migration scheme devised by French colonisers, and Beijing hopes to play on their patriotic nostalgia.
China has long been extending its own sphere of influence in crucial trade routes through the South China Sea. Now Beijing is looking to secure its long-range routes through the Indian Ocean – to the oil of the Middle East. By placing their own navy and bases in the region, their global trade is bolstered.
China is angling to acquire a counter base to America’s on Diego Garcia. Of course, Washington wouldn’t like that. But China has a precedent for acquiring a rival base to America’s in the same country. Djibouti, a micro-state on the East African coast, already hosts three military bases – owned by France, China and the USA.
This all means that Mauritius could find itself at the centre of an aggressive bidding war between both Washington and Beijing over the Chagos Islands.
Who will win? Unnervingly for the West, Beijing has the know-how to turn a desert island into an airbase and deep coffers to buy the rights. As it has shown in the South China Sea, it can mobilise the resources to transform a sandbar into solid land almost overnight.
And cash-strapped Mauritius could be looking for new tenants.
The only people left out of this great power game are Chagossians, cast adrift 50 years ago.
Meanwhile, their old home islands could now be the battleground of the New Cold War between America and China – the Cubas of tomorrow.
Original article at Daily Mail