International

Coco Islands: Can India Take It Back?

Coco islands are a small group of islands located in North-Eastern part of Bay of Bengal. It is 1255 km South-East of Kolkata, and one of the most important islands in South Asia. It is being administered by Myanmar since 1948. The Chinese had got these islands on lease from Myanmar military government in 1994.

Today in this article, we will discuss about the strategic importance, geography, Chinese procession, India’s concern, ownership history etc., of Coco islands………………….. Let’s start………….

Geography

Coco islands

It is located in the North-Eastern part of the Bay of Bengal. It is 250 km south of the Burmese mainland. The Coco Islands are 30 miles North to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Group of India.

Coco islands

Geographically, these islands are part of Andaman and Nicobar archipelago. The Coco islands are divided into two major group :-

  • Great Coco island
  • Little Coco island

These islands are home to 1,000 people. Most of them, are either the military personnel of Myanmar or their family members. Most of the lands are under forest cover, with the majority of coconut trees. The Coco islands also have an airport namely Coco Island airport, which was built with Chinese help.

History Of Coco Islands

The islands were first discovered by Portuguese sailors. They named it Coco Island, because of the majority of coconut trees being there.

The control of Coco islands in the Andaman archipelago was taken over by the English East India company in the 18th century. Its control was transferred from EIC to the British government of India in the 19th century. Britishers established a penal colony (prison to keep political dissenters) in the Andaman and the Coco islands were are a source of food for them (mainly coconut).

Due to the remoteness of the Coco islands, it was difficult for Britishers to govern them. In 1882, the Britishers transferred the control of Coco islands to the British government of Burma.

After seperation of Burma from India in 1937, these islands became part of Burmese territory. Japan during World War 2 occupied these islands, along with the Andaman islands. After Japanese vacated these islands, the control of Coco islands were retained by independent Burma in 1948 (Burma got its independence from Britishers in 1948).

After the 1962 military coup in Myanmar, a penal colony was established by its military in these islands. Later on, Myanmar Navy developed a naval base there. In 1994, China got these islands on lease from the Myanmar military. However, both countries deny any such agreement at all.

India’s Possession Of Coco Islands

The Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes in an interview with the BBC in 2003, had stated that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had ‘donated’ the Coco Islands to Burma in the 1950s, and thus surrendered a vital strategic asset.

Many other reports also claim that the Indian government had gifted the Coco islands to Myanmar in the 1950s. But no one knows the actual truth and the actual reports are still classified by both the Indian and Burmese governments.

Can India Take It Back?

It actually depends on weather India had gifted these islands to Myanmar in 1950s or not.

If we had gifted these islands, then definitely we can send our military and can take our land back, because India can blame Myanmar that these islands are helping China to do anti-India activities. And India had gifted these islands to the government of Myanmar for its own use, not for giving it on lease to a third country like China. So, we can take it back.

If we had not gifted these islands to Myanmar, then there is only one option available i.e. send our military and capture these islands. But, this is not feasible due to many reasons like degradation of India’s image globally, dragging China into the war etc.

Strategic Importance

The islands have an immense strategic advantage in the region, considering their proximity to the strait of Malacca which is a crucial point for the global supply routes of oil from the Gulf. Around 40% of global trade passes through Malacca strait. Considering China’s military build-up in the South China Sea, it is evident that China wants to control its major trade routes. They also want to deploy enough military around the strategic Strait of Malacca to protect its interest in any eventuality.

Coco islands give them direct access to the region of the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean. It also a part of their String of Pearls to contain India’s presence in the region.

Also read: China’s Xian H20 Strategic Bomber: A Threat For India?

Chinese Footprint

Since 1994, China is using these islands for its military and naval purposes. They have established intelligence facilities, maritime bases, radar facilities etc., to monitor Indian activities in the region.

Development of Airstrip in Coco islands

The islands has an operational airport, which is built by China and it is solely for military purposes.

Coco islands

China has established its SIGINT (signal intelligence) facility to monitor Indian missile launches. They can monitor the missile testing facility of India located at Chandipur and Kalam Island. They can even monitor the Indian Naval presence and its developments in the region.

Radar facilities available at Coco island

China is working on its CPEC style economic corridor in Myanmar as Myanmar-China Economic Corridor. After completion of the project, it will allow China to increase its infrastructure and facilities in Coco islands.

Conclusion

China has already started working on its String of Pearls Theory to contain India in the region. They have already taken control of Hambantota port in Sri Lanka using its ‘debt-trap’ for 99 years, they are developing the Gwadar port in Pakistan as part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). They have also invested in the Chittagong port in Bangladesh and have won the rights for the Kyaukpyu port project in Myanmar. Along with all these strategic ports, the Coco islands give them direct access to the Bay of Bengal.

India can counter Chinese presence in the Coco islands by understanding the strategic importance of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It already homes to a tri-service command of the Indian Armed Forces. But the developments and proper utilization of these islands are still an issue. We need to invest and develop the infrastructures in the Andaman and Nicobar islands to make them a strong military and economic hub in the IOR (Indian Ocean Region).

Thank you

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Aniket Kumar

A defence aspirant, desiring to gain as much knowledge as possible by writing blogs because knowledge increases by sharing.

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