The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, located in the Bay of Bengal, are of extreme geopolitical importance for India to counter China’s efforts to expand its maritime reach into the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
The islands are north-west of the Strait of Malacca, offering control of a so-called choke point that is one of China’s greatest marine vulnerabilities. Its location makes it an ideal base for tracking naval movements in the Strait of Malacca, a long, narrow funnel between Malaysia and Indonesia.
For this, India and Japan are holding discussions to upgrade civilian infrastructure in the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
A proposal in this regard has been submitted to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to develop a 15-megawatt diesel power plant on South Andaman Island.
What’s significant about the move is that India had not previously accepted any foreign investment offer on the archipelago.
The project also highlights the growing defense and economic cooperation between the two Asian powers to build a strategic counterweight to China. India is also extending cooperation with Australia and the United States, as well as regional powers like Vietnam, to counter China’s growing influence.
Besides the proposed power plant, Japan is also looking to provide financing for “bridges and ports”.
Since 2012, the two countries have held regular bilateral naval exercises (JIMEX) and, starting last year, Japan became a permanent member of the U.S.-India Malabar series of exercises.
The Andaman and Nicobar chain is made up of 572 islands, all but 34 of them uninhabited, stretching around 756km north to south.
The islands’ importance has increased along with China’s naval expansion.
The strait provides passage for China’s fuel imports from Africa and the Middle East, around 80 per cent of its total fuel imports.