When Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth joined other government leaders to congratulate U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, his message touched on the diplomatic storm brewing over Diego Garcia. The island hosts a secretive U.S. military base in a stretch of the Indian Ocean that lies within the archipelagic country’s waters but is administered by Britain, Asia Nikkei reports.
Mauritius, Jugnauth said this month, was prepared to renew an offer it had made to President Donald Trump’s administration: a long-term lease of Diego Garcia for its continued use “as a military base by American authorities.”
The proposal was a reminder to Washington that Mauritius is sticking to its diplomatic blueprint to reclaim Diego Garcia. The 30-square-kilometer island with a complicated colonial history is the largest in the Chagos Archipelago and provides a significant toehold for the U.S. to base aircraft and warships that have been deployed for maneuvers across the Indian Ocean.
In 2019, the International Court of Justice, the U.N.’s highest court, affirmed in an advisory that the Chagos Archipelago is part of Mauritian territory. The same year, the U.N. General Assembly echoed the court’s view in a sweeping vote.
The strategic significance of Diego Garcia to the U.S. has not been lost on Mauritius, which spans over 2,000 square kilometers in the heart of the Indian Ocean. “We are aware of the importance that the U.S. attaches to the base in Diego Garcia,” Jagdish Koonjul, the Mauritian ambassador to the U.N., told Nikkei Asia in a recent interview. “We do appreciate the fact that the base has been used essentially to protect the oil routes and to ensure security in the Indo-Pacific region.”