Kuala Lumpur: India seeks to speed up plans in the Indian Ocean amidst growing Chinese presence in the region. Indian aims to convert the Andaman and Nicobar Islands into a shipping and tourism hub with connections to South-East Asia, reported The Star, a Malaysia-based publication.

In a recent meeting, Indian and Indonesian officials agreed to "encourage sail tourism, cruise ship visits, and interaction between tour operators" between the two countries to increase connectivity between the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Aceh where India is helping to develop the deep sea port of Sabang.

Officials from both countries have agreed to help create opportunities for investors.

Strengthening links between Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Aceh, 150 km apart, is part of the Shared Vision for Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific signed in 2018 between the two countries, according to The Star report.

Rajiv Bhatia, retired Indian ambassador and Distinguished Fellow at Gateway House, a think-tank, as quoted by The Star, said: "The broader context (of this cooperation) is closer political and economic ties. The idea is that there should be deeper and closer cooperation, and for that, infrastructure should be in place."

"India's approach in the past (towards the Andaman and Nicobar Islands) used to be so restrictive, to not do any development of the area and not allow foreign powers. Now there is an evolution in thinking," Bhatia added.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have a population of around 400,000 people, including aboriginal tribes and Jarawas who inhabited the island for years and live off the land.

According to environmentalists, the proposed development would destroy ecologically and culturally sensitive areas of these islands.

The government's ambitious infrastructure plan includes a leisure zone, a film city, a residential district and a tourism-specific economic zone, underwater resorts and beach hotels in Little Andaman, an island of about 707 sq km, according to The Star.

According to a Home Ministry letter in March 2022, the airport will be a joint military-civil, dual-use airport under the operational control of the Indian Navy, according to a Home Ministry letter in March 2022.

Recently, Mizzima News reported that the China-Indian Ocean Region Forum on Development Cooperation can be perceived as another expansionist attempt by China to amplify its presence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) by investing in ports and infrastructure in the IOR countries, especially in South Asia.

According to the report, against the backdrop of the recent setbacks that China faced in the region, including in Sri Lanka and Pakistan, the China-Indian Ocean Region Forum is a clear attempt by Beijing to reclaim some of the lost ground.

China, which has an eye on the strategic benefits the IOR has to offer, has repeatedly said the Indian Ocean is not India's ocean. The country is looking towards expanding its economic, military, and political influence in the region, the report said.