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India is alarmed at growing China-Maldives ties

By       Message Abdus-Sattar Ghazali       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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The Maldives' ambassador to China Mohamed Faisal says that the country would push ahead with Chinese projects and seek more investment from the country, regardless of concerns raised by regional power India.

His statement to South China Morning Post came after Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen lifted a state of emergency on Thursday March 22 after 45 days.

Rivalry between China and India has been playing out amid political turmoil in the Indian Ocean archipelago that erupted in early February. It has seen President Yameen ordering the arrest of two former leaders who staged a coup ahead of a presidential election to be held in September, with one of them seeking military intervention from India, and accusing the government of letting China "buy up" the Maldives.

"We have been caught up in this new way that the world is looking at China," Faisal said adding: "It is part of a global trend now -- a lot of people are seeing what China is doing because in terms of both economically and global power, China is rising."

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"There has been tension and pressure on the Maldives " the talk of debt traps, land grabs in the nation is because we have been working with China. If we were working with India or the US, people would not be talking."

Since Chinese President Xi Jinping's first state visit to the Maldives in 2014, investment from China in the nation has boomed. Apart from the two biggest projects -- the airport expansion and a bridge connecting the airport to the capital Male -- other Chinese investments range from social housing to island resorts.

The two nations in December agreed to build an ocean observation station, a project initiated by China. It has triggered concerns in India that it might be intended for more than environmental monitoring, and could have military uses too.

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China's growing investments in South Asia have fuelled security worries in India, which sees ports acquired by China in Sri Lanka and Pakistan as representing "a string of pearls" to contain its regional power in the Indian Ocean.

More than 70 per cent of the Maldives' foreign debt is owed to China, but Faisal said it was not having trouble making payments, adding that the country had some concessional loans it would be able to repay as its tourism market expanded.

Political crisis

Traditionally the archipelago of 1,200 islands and a population of 390,000 Muslims has been firmly in New Delhi's sphere of influence, with India even intervening in 1988, when a group of mercenaries tried to seize power. Its support helped keep former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in power for three decades and later aided Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected leader who became famous when he used his low-lying island nation to highlight the risk of rising sea levels and climate change.

But Male began tilting toward Beijing after Yameen, the half-brother of Gayoom, came to power in 2013 by defeating Nasheed.

In 2015, in a trial Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison. He later received asylum in Britain.

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China now sees the Maldives as a crucial part of its "One Belt One Road" project along ancient trade routes through the Indian Ocean and Central Asia. The initiative envisages building ports, railways and roads to expand trade -- and China's influence -- in a swathe across Asia, Africa and Europe.

China's massive lending to poor nations for such projects has raised concerns about their ability to repay. Already, Beijing has taken over ports it developed in Sri Lanka and Pakistan on long-term leases, according to western media reports.

Nasheed claims China is "buying up the Maldives" under Yameen, accusing the president of opening up the floodgates to Chinese investments with little or no oversight and transparency. China has dismissed those allegations.

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Author and journalist. Author of Islamic Pakistan: Illusions & Reality; Islam in the Post-Cold War Era; Islam & Modernism; Islam & Muslims in the Post-9/11 America. Currently working as free lance journalist. Executive Editor of American (more...)
 

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