China is actively extending its influence into the Indian Ocean right now. The Maritime Silk Route (MSR) initiative, a part of the current leader Xi Jinping’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which devotes over a trillion dollars to infrastructure projects spanning Eurasia and Africa, has made the Indian Ocean the focal point of the project. In Djibouti, he constructed China’s first overseas base in 2017. In addition, he is dedicated to enhancing strategic ties with island countries in the Indian Ocean like Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Mauritius, and the Seychelles.
In the Maldives, China opened its embassy in 2011 at a time of political unrest that resulted in President Mohamed Nasheed’s forced resignation in 2012. China started to increase its business footprint in the Maldives at the same time that the historically positive relations between Maldives and New Delhi (India) were deteriorating.
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Understanding the Security Challenges Facing Both Nations and India’s Interests in the Maldives
Identifying New Delhi’s interests in the island nation is essential to understanding the relationship between India and the Maldives. According to Anand Kumar of the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (MP-IDSA), these interests are as follows:
“First off, Maldives’ political stability is important to India as is the stability of its surrounding countries. Second, India wishes to keep the Maldives free from any influence from states or non-state actors that might be detrimental to its security interests. Additionally, these forces have the power to alter the IOR’s security landscape. Thirdly, India has a sizable presence in the Maldives and is concerned for their safety and security. Last but not least, India would want its corporate investments in the Maldives to be secure.
As part of his attempts to further India’s interests, Indian Defence Minister AK Antony inked a defence cooperation agreement with the Maldives in 2009. As part of the agreement, the fleets of the two countries would jointly patrol and watch over the Indian Ocean. The Indian government has given its support to the construction of a 25-bed military hospital and a helicopter carrier for the island nation. India is also reportedly working on a system that will link the 26 atolls of the Maldives with ground radars to create a possible network. Indian Coast Guard Command
Some Maldivian leaders, however, rejected the agreement, claiming that “Maldives’ sovereignty was under threat and the country was becoming an Indian protectorate.” The tourism sector, which is a major engine of the Maldivian economy, depends on the security of the IOR, therefore despite these worries, the Maldives continue to work with India on security-related problems. India lends assistance by stationing warships and reconnaissance aircraft in the Maldives’ territorial waters. Counterterrorism plans have been developed by both nations to protect India from any future marine attacks. The navies of India and the Maldives often engage in cooperative drills.
Fostering Development: Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom‘s Initiative to Promote Economic Growth in Maldives
Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s rule undertook a strong initiative in this regard, as he got elected as the President in the year 2013 and was particularly suitable for the business of Beijing. Two reasons were observed for being loyal to Yameen.
Firstly, it seemed Beijing wanted to show deference to its government managerial authority, for example, a warning was given against China and India not to intervene in the internal politics of the Maldives when Naivo & Qaboos issued a directive of an emergency state of Yameen in February 2018, which caused an outcry. The Supreme Court’s directive of releasing political prisoners was also taken into account. Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s administration undertook a powerful initiative to promote entrepreneurship under the guidance of which he was selected as president in 2013 and was particularly suitable for the business industry.
The second factor, the country was transformed into a graduate before his tenure as President from a least developed country (LDC) in 2011 and provided crucial economic aid and no alternative. In this way, Chinese Expansion recognized the importance of the important project such as the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge in 2014 and provided access routes for its operations in order to promote economic development.
Moreover, Yemen is trying to introduce commerce and market access for fish exports to China by establishing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 2017. This endeavour, however, was swiftly brought to the attention of its southern neighbors through India’s instrumentation in the face of China’s superior commercial influence, by the minimal presence of its Parliament in adequately approving of the agreement. Unfortunately, the attempt failed as its initiator, Ibrahim al-Solih, was unable to have the agreement ratified before his election in 2018.
Solih, the current diplomatic dispute between China and the Maldives over granting of FTA approval has put a question mark on the Chinese investment so far. In the first instance, China’s reluctance towards engaging with FTA owing to the magnitude of their economic interest outweighing the Maldives’ could be seen as doubtful. The GDP per capita of the Maldives is a mere US$5 billion, while that of China is US$17 trillion in contrast. Consequently, a little population bearing slightly less than a half-million of GDP is hardly proving to be a notable recipient of their market supplies. Nevertheless, such agreements will allow Chinese Expansion a strategic advantage over the archipelago and consequently have significant economic influence
A Look at China’s Economic Coercion: Understanding the Debt Trap Diplomacy and its Impact on the Indo-Pacific Region
China is greatly accused of having used economic coercion to compel countries to accede to their larger objectives. This perspective, articulated by former president of Maldives and current speaker of the Parliament, Mohamed Nasheed, almost on a daily basis, suggests that China wants other countries to comply with their economic deals in a commercial manner, essentially ‘securing their tech loans’ through the ‘Debt-trap Diplomacy‘. This strategy is generally seen as evidence of such tactics, given the leasing of the Laamu Atoll to China, as a ‘long-term investment’ back in 1999.
Critics have put forward the notion that such discourses overlook the domestic economic interests of nations while ostensibly blaming China for faults, to push geopolitical objectives. This pattern is evident to an extent in the formation of a commercialized, neo-liberal pattern of development in the small island States of the Indian Ocean, such as the Maldives and Sri Lanka, but is also expanded to include larger, more developed states in a comparably extensive Indo-Pacific region.
China-Australia relations serve as a prime example of how effective diplomacy works. Under the authority of the Malcolm Turnbull administration, Australia, conscious of the geopolitical significance of the South China Sea, has taken a brave stance by its diplomats to influence the issuers. For instance, in 2017, Sam Dastyari, an Australian Labor Party politician, was forced to resign from the senate after being publicly condemned for taking money from Chinese benefactors and openly supporting Beijing’s South China Sea stance.
Western Middle Powers and the US Indo-Pacific allies will be able to utilize this form of commercial advantages, and the island nation will face a serious vigilance for an extensive macro-economic maneuvering for a big risk.
Since the Canberra administration implemented laws for counteracting foreign influence and the subsequent Scott Morrison government had imposed a ban on the roll-out of 5G networks in Australia, ties between the two countries have increased in tension. Allegations of charging fees for Chinese investments in the Australian economy and of providing China with extensive economic advantages over the West and its Indo-Pacific allies, threatens to create an incredibly risky micro-state of economic dependence for many of the Melanesian nations. This level of Chinese economic intervention will be viewed with great concern and alarm for these countries.
Despite former President Yameen’s leadership, China’s debt to the archipelago increases rapidly in GDP and a significant source of China’s tourism emerges, an important sector for the archipelago’s economy. It is noteworthy that China allows only its citizens to visit the approved destinations (ADS) in other countries, and strictly manages its outward tourism as an economic service – for instance, in 2014 the ruling issued an advisory against travelling to the Philippines in response to local hostility.
Furthermore, despite early promises, the present administration has established a strong relationship with Yemen. This robust connection, established under Emirati administration, represents a primary commitment to renewing a commercial agreement with China, as well as attempting to reduce Yemen’s debt to the country. India has favoured the initiative to reduce Yemen’s economic dependence on China