Potential dangers to the Chagos Islands | Letters

Jonathan Hunt says most of the islands are uninhabitable and Paul Tattam says there is a risk of China playing Britain at its own game of gunboat diplomacy

Britain has rightly been criticised by the international court for its appalling treatment of former inhabitants of the Chagos archipelago almost 50 years ago (Britain ordered to return Chagos Islands to Mauritius, 26 February). But the court displays little knowledge of the situation today. All but Diego Garcia and just one of the larger islands (30 out of 50) are infested with rats and uninhabitable. Billions would be required to restore them to a condition able to support significant populations.

A poor country like Mauritius could never afford even a fraction of the cost. The ecological danger to the planet is that Mauritius would flog off Chagos’s fishing rights to Japanese and other commercial operators, as it did with its own rights.

The current 200-mile exclusion zone provides a unique ocean laboratory where all manner of marine life thrives and can be studied. Much has been destroyed by man everywhere else. Whatever the outcome, it must be retained, maintained and protected.
Jonathan Hunt
London

• China was furious when the judgment of the permanent court of arbitration at The Hague ruled in July 2016 against its claims to huge areas of the South China Sea where on various uninhabited reefs, shoals and rocks it had already set up military infrastructure.

Its ambitions are highly controversial, but it hasn’t turfed anyone from their home. The sensitivity of the region didn’t, however, deter the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, from vowing to send the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth to the area in his speech on “defence in Global Britain” earlier this month.

Between 1967 and 1973 the UK expelled the Chagos islanders from their Indian Ocean home so that the largest island could be used as a strategic military base. Now that the international court of justice has ruled that the UK should end its wrongful administration, one wonders whether China will feel it should deploy its carrier Liaoning in the region in order to “use its global capabilities to strengthen its global presence”, to borrow Williamson’s phrase.
Paul Tattam
Chinley, Derbyshire

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