Maldives - China Relations
The Maldives, which is known more for its luxury resorts, has become an increasingly important part of China’s global trade and infrastructure project, the "Belt and Road" initiative. It is also seen by analysts as a key strategic outpost in the Indian Ocean, given its close proximity to India. Beijing has assumed more than 70 percent of the island nation’s debt and that nearly a quarter of the country’s current budget is used to cover interest payments.
Maldivian president, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, used Chinese money and Saudi Arabia-backed Islamicism to throttle his country’s democratic polity. The direction he is taking the strategically important Indian Ocean archipelagic state raised eyebrows in New Delhi. Three Chinese naval ships docked in Male in August 2017 and the Maldives has endorsed the Belt Road Initiative.
Beijing has made large investments in infrastructure projects in the Maldives since the present government led by President Abdulla Yameen came to power following the ouster of pro-India former President Mohamed Nasheed. New Delhi had long worried about China expanding its influence in countries in the Indian Ocean region, which it considers its strategic backyard.
The year 2014 has been a historical year for China-Maldives relations. President Yameen and President Xi Jinping exchanged visit within one month and both countries committed themselves in the construction of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR), thus opening more opportunities for the two sides to work together and bring benefits to their peoples. On 15 January 2015, H.E. Mr. Wang Fukang, Chinese Ambassador to Maldives, published an article titled " China and Maldives: Partners in Building 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Together" on «Miadhu», one of the major newspapers in Maldives.
During President Xi Jinpin’s historic visit to Maldives, China and Maldives decides to establish Future-Oriented All-Round Friendly and Cooperative Partnership between the two countries, with various important documents of cooperation signed between China and Maldives including the Agreement on Establishing JCTEC, the MoU on Foreign Ministries cooperation, the Mou on promoting Male’-Hulhule’ Bridge project construction, and the MoU on health cooperation etc. All these cooperation and joint efforts would flourish under the MSR initiative.
In December 2014 China sent 1,000 tons of fresh water to the Maldives by plane and a military vessel to help with a severe water shortage. China's official Xinhua news agency says more than 100,000 people in the capital city, Male, are short of water because of a fire at the country's only water and sewage treatment plant. China's Foreign Ministry said Beijing has provided emergency aid in cash and drinking water in response to the Maldivian government's request.
Chinese investment is expected to help triple passenger handling capacity of the Maldives international airport with the addition of a new runway, an official said on 27 February 2015. Minister of Economic Development Mohamed Saeed said efforts were underway under the direct supervision of President Abdulla Yameen to secure financing for the projects. "The previous development concept was only for the development of the terminal," says Saeed. "But now we are talking of a whole new airport. We are going to build a second runway. President Yameen wants to build a second runway."
The constitutional amendment bill passed by the Maldivian parliament 22 July 2015 would allow foreign parties who invest at least $1 billion to lease land on the project site on a freehold basis. At least 70 percent of the land must be reclaimed. Maldives is a cluster of nearly 1,200 tiny islands. Seventy of the 84 lawmakers voted in favor of the bill, and 14 voted against it.
China said it was not planning to build military bases on the Maldives, which had passed legislation in July 2015 to allow foreigners to own land, despite opposition concern that Beijing would use the law for military expansion. The legislation permitte foreigners in the Indian Ocean island nation to own land within a project site as long as at least 70% of the area is reclaimed from the sea.
The Maldivian Democratic Party, which opposed the reform, said the bill could give "unprecedented access to foreign parties to operate in the Maldives." One party member accused the government of facilitating a stronger Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean.
China's Foreign Ministry said the vote was an internal matter for the Maldives, but that China wanted good relations with the country, best known for its luxury diving resorts.
China "has always respected and supported the Maldives' efforts to maintain its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity," the ministry said, per Reuters. "What the relevant people said about China building bases in the Maldives is totally baseless."
Analysts point out that some anxieties about China's military intentions have been fueled by its construction of a network of ports, dubbed the String of Pearls, in the Indian Ocean. Some worry that Beijing's plan is to establish electronic eavesdropping posts in the region, including in Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
In an effort to alleviate fears about its plans for its increasingly modern military, Beijing repeatedly said it does not want military bases abroad. But, according to experts, China will likely have to establish military bases overseas so its forces can protect the growing interests of one of the world's largest economies.
China’s bid to extend its influence in the Maldives was aimed at the United States, which has a naval base in the Indian Ocean at Diego Garcia.
Maldives told India it will not allow China to set up military bases on its territory. Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen conveyed the assurance the Maldives will remain a “demilitarized zone” in a letter given to Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi by the country’s foreign secretary Ali Naseer. That is unlikely to calm fears China will consolidate its position in the Indian Ocean.
India’s foreign secretary, Subrahmanyan Jaishankar, visited Maldives to express concerns about a new law that allows foreigners to own land in the country if they invest $ 1 billion and reclaim 70 percent of the land from the sea.
Exiled Maldivian opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed in Colombo accused China on 22 January 2018 of 'land grabbing' and undermining its sovereignty. Nasheed claimed at a media briefing that Chinese interests had led to the leasing out of about 16 islets among the 1,192 scattered coral islands, and were building ports and other infrastructure there. He said "... there is land grab going on, that threatens not just the Maldives, but the peace and stability of the entire region. A large emerging power is busy buying up the Maldives, buying up our islands, buying up our key infrastructure, and effectively, buying up our sovereignty."
China waded into a growing political crisis involving the small island nation of Maldives, urging the international community to play what it called a “constructive role” in the ongoing dispute, putting itself at odds with the United Nations on the issue. China's country’s economic development minister, Mohamed Saeed, met with Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on 08 February 2018. Wang Yi told the official that China believes the Maldives government and people have the "wisdom and ability to appropriately handle the issue facing them and return the country to normal order in accordance with the law." And in a remark apparently aimed at the growing international chorus and the United Nations against the Maldives government’s actions, he also said: "China does not interfere in the Maldives' internal affairs, which is also an important criterion of the rules of the United Nations charter."
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