Future of Chagos Islands at mercy of Washington's whims
United Kingdom Defense Secretary Grant Shapps is reportedly working on a new strategy to abandon an earlier plan, drawn up by former foreign secretary James Cleverly, to return the Chagos Islands to Mauritius.
The Chagos Islands were part of Mauritius for a century before being occupied by France in the early 18th century and being transferred to Britain after the defeat of France by the sixth anti-France coalition in Europe in 1814. After some islands were returned to the Seychelles in 1976, the Chagos Islands ended up becoming the last British colony in the Indian Ocean and Africa.
After independence in 1968, Mauritius asked the UK to return the Chagos Islands, a claim widely recognized by the international community.
In 2015, the Southern African Development Community summit issued a communique calling for a swift end to the UK's illegal occupation of the Chagos Islands.
The International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion at the end of February 2019, requiring the UK to terminate its jurisdiction in the Chagos Islands "within the shortest period of time". At the United Nations General Assembly in May 2019, 116 countries recognized that "the Chagos Islands are an integral part of the territory of Mauritius" and recommended that the UK withdraw from there within six months.
The fundamental reason why the UK is unwilling to give up Chagos Islands is because of its strategic location in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Warplanes and bombers taking off from there can reach Africa, the Gulf, South China Sea and Central Asia within hours.
In 1966, the US obtained Diego Garcia from the UK on a 50-year lease, which has now been extended till 2036. Since then the US has built it into the only overseas military base in the world that can support its military outreach in both the east and the west. After the US proposed its "Indo-Pacific" strategy, the military value of Diego Garcia has gone up.
No wonder Shapps is worried that the return of the Chagos Islands to Mauritius will affect the "special relationship" between London and Washington as well as the UK-supported "Indo-Pacific" strategy. Obviously, the ownership of the Chagos Islands does not depend on the UK or Mauritius, but on the whims of Washington.