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Infrastructure deals strengthen ties between China, Maldives in Asia

By Yagiz Efe Parmaksiz
Jan 11, 2024 1:04 PM

China pledges to continue funding Maldives’ infrastructure, medical care, livelihood improvement, and environmental protection to strengthen ties amid power struggles between Beijing and New Delhi

In a significant move, China has pledged to continue its financial support for infrastructure projects in the Maldives, further strengthening its strategic ties with the vital Indian Ocean archipelago.

In September, Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu secured his election with a platform that prioritized cultivating “strong ties” with China and the expulsion of Indian soldiers amid an ongoing power struggle between Beijing and New Delhi.

The largest foreign creditor of the Maldives, China, welcomed Muizzu on his first state visit this week. On Thursday, the two countries released a joint statement outlining the “broad consensus” established by the two leaders. In a statement released on the state broadcaster, China pledged to “continue to provide support within its capacity to the Maldives side in areas of priority concern”.

It said that “infrastructure construction, medical care and health care, improvement of people’s livelihoods, new energy sources, agriculture and marine environmental protection” are being prioritized. Muizzu, in turn, thanked China for its “selfless assistance” in providing the Maldives with development funds. The communique followed a meeting on Wednesday with President Xi Jinping at which Beijing announced the “elevation of bilateral ties”.

“Under the new circumstances, China-Maldives relations face a historic opportunity to build on past achievements and forge ahead,” Xi told Muizzu, according to China’s state news agency. Xi “stressed that China respects and supports the Maldives in exploring a development path suited to its national conditions”, it said.

Beijing “supports the Maldives firmly in safeguarding its national sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and national dignity”, he said. Muizzu thanked Xi for “China’s significant role in the Maldives’ economic success” and Beijing’s role in the “infrastructure development of the Maldives”, according to a readout from his office.

Muizzu’s party was an eager recipient of funds from the Belt and Road infrastructure programme, a central pillar of Xi’s bid to expand China’s influence overseas. His mentor, former President Abdulla Yameen, borrowed heavily from Beijing for construction projects and spurned India. That left it owing 42% of its total external debts of more than $3 billion to Beijing in 2021, according to the World Bank, citing the Maldives’ finance ministry. Eleven percent of that debt was owed to China’s Exim Bank, a key Belt and Road creditor.

The Maldives signed several fresh agreements with China on Wednesday, including ones on climate, agriculture and infrastructure, Muizzu’s office said. However, no details are given about the value of the agreements by either side.

The Maldives, primarily known as one of South Asia’s most expensive holiday destinations, with pristine white beaches and secluded resorts, has also become a geopolitical hotspot. Global east-west shipping lanes pass the nation’s chain of 1,192 tiny coral islands, stretching around 800 kilometres (500 miles) across the equator.

Muizzu was elected promising to remove a unit of Indian security personnel, deployed to operate three aircraft gifted to the Maldives to patrol its vast maritime territory. He said their withdrawal had been secured last month but did not give a timeframe.

Shekhar Sinha, a retired Indian navy admiral with the India Foundation think tank, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that the partnership between China and the Maldives “presents the most challenging security concern for India in the immediate future”. He added: “The comprehensive nature of the agreements has the potential of making Maldives a maritime satellite of China in the region,” Muizzu has denied seeking to redraw the regional balance by bringing in Chinese forces to replace Indian troops.

But tensions have flared with India as Muizzu’s administration works to untangle a diplomatic row with New Delhi after three of its junior ministers reportedly called Modi a “clown” and a “terrorist” in since-deleted social media posts last week.

Bollywood actors and some of India’s cricket greats have responded with calls for their compatriots to boycott their southern neighbour and instead book their next holidays closer to home. Tourism accounts for nearly a third of the Maldives’ economy, with Indians making up the largest share of foreign arrivals.

Source: AFP

Last Updated:  Jun 4, 2024 1:27 PM