At the time of writing (yesterday afternoon) by all accounts the Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was leading in the American elections that were held on November 3rd, the tally then being Biden 264 as against Trump’s 214 (Total seats 270), with counting still going on in a couple of States. The whole world is waiting for the final outcome, because despite all the turbulence that has been shaking it up, America still remains the global power number one in terms of its economy, and whatever happens there impacts the whole world whether we like it or not.
As a country we do not have any great penetration in the US trade-wise, barring the African Growth and Opportunity Act, meant for Africa essentially, but which allowed us to make an inroad into the American market. Still, we have to be concerned because the Indian Ocean is fast becoming the pivotal centre of global geopolitics, and this has been triggered in recent times by the outreach strategy of China which extends to our region as well.
Thus, China has a military base in Djibouti, ostensibly to better monitor and control piracy in the region which threatens the transport of its oil supplies. But other powers view this as part of its larger strategy of global dominance, in line with its activities in the South China Sea and the Malacca strait, which are considered to imperil the free movement of international maritime traffic in those parts. Neighbouring countries resent this perceived threat of China, but this is also true for the US, India, Australia and Japan. They have allied to form the QUAD, to counter the growing military push and clout of China in the Indian Ocean region.
As far as we are concerned, the Chagos issue is still not completely resolved despite the ruling of the International Court of Justice in our favour, and now there is the problem of tuna fishing which brings in the UK in the Indian Ocean region through its association with the Maldives.
Though we are a small island state, our location in the Indian Ocean nevertheless places us at practically the centre of this power game going on, and we must craft our foreign policy in such a way as to leverage it to our advantage, which means at all times defending and securing our interests. We have always adopted the line of being friendly to all, and we must make sure that the powers that be understand that it cannot be otherwise. That is why any negotiations in which we are involved must be carried out by seasoned diplomats and ambassadors, and because personal contacts are so vital in this respect, there must be no reluctance on the part of the authorities to have recourse to former cadres if need be. The interest of the country must be paramount.
As far as America is concerned, there is not likely to be any major change in policy in the Indian Ocean region even if Biden becomes President. This is the view of Vijay Makhan, former Commissioner of African Union, and Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Mauritius, in his interview to this paper today.
As he opines, ‘…the USA objectives will continue to be dominated by its security concerns and naturally it will continue to strengthen its position within the regions… Besides, let me just reiterate that when it comes to foreign policy objectives and US security considerations, these are established by the two major departments which are the State Department, that is foreign affairs, and the Pentagon, that is defence.
Obviously, any American administration will follow keenly the India-China glaring ongoing competition in the region, and Washington will continue to scrutinise, analyse and assess the aspirations of both these countries and determine its policy accordingly. I do not see a Biden administration changing the status quo except in its approach’.
Further on, he points out that ‘Mauritius has always entertained a policy and attitude of “Friends to all”. I hardly see any reason for us to depart from that stance. On the contrary, we will have to be very careful and maintain that approach. We should always be conscious of the fact that we are a small nation, highly dependent on the outside world for our economic progress and development.
It would hardly serve us to choose one camp or another. We have no alternative than to continue to pursue a more or less neutral path, that is, from the geo-strategic point of view. It is our permanent interests that will have to prime at all times.’
This is all the more important as we have no control over the future that is unfolding, but must be vigilant and prepare to actively adapt to the shifting circumstances if we are to survive in this increasingly difficult international order.
* Published in print edition on 6 November 2020