China has pledged to extend funding for key infrastructure projects in the Maldives in a bid to strengthen its influence in the strategically located Indian Ocean archipelago. This move comes after the Maldives upgraded ties with Beijing, raising concerns about the intensifying rivalry between China and India for geopolitical dominance in the region. Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu, elected in September, has been vocal about cultivating “strong ties” with China, signaling a shift away from historical allegiances, particularly with India.
Historic Ties and Strategic Shift
The Maldives, a tropical paradise known for its pristine white beaches and luxurious resorts, has found itself at the center of a geopolitical tug-of-war between Beijing and New Delhi. Former president Abdulla Yameen’s eager acceptance of funds from China’s Belt and Road infrastructure program significantly increased the archipelago nation’s debt to Beijing, reaching over $3 billion by 2021. This debt, constituting 42% of the Maldives’ total external debts, has positioned China as the Maldives’ largest external creditor.
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President Muizzu’s State Visit
President Muizzu’s recent state visit to China marked a pivotal moment in the evolving relationship between the two nations. During his visit, a joint communique was issued, highlighting the “broad consensus” reached between the leaders. China, acknowledging its role as the Maldives’ largest external creditor, pledged to “continue to provide support within its capacity” in crucial areas such as infrastructure construction, medical care, health care, people’s livelihoods, new energy sources, agriculture, and marine environmental protection.
China’s commitment to supporting the Maldives encompasses a wide spectrum of sectors crucial for the archipelago’s development. From infrastructure construction to healthcare and from agriculture to marine environmental protection, Beijing aims to contribute significantly to the Maldives’ growth and well-being. The joint communique reflects China’s intention to play a pivotal role in shaping the Maldives’ economic and strategic landscape.
Xi Jinping’s Assurance
President Xi Jinping emphasized the historic opportunity for China-Maldives relations to build on past achievements and forge ahead. Xi highlighted China’s respect and support for the Maldives in exploring a development path suited to its national conditions. Furthermore, he expressed firm support for the Maldives in safeguarding its national sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity, and national dignity, reinforcing China’s commitment to the archipelago’s autonomy.
Maldives’ Gratitude and Deals Signed
President Muizzu, in turn, expressed gratitude for China’s “selfless assistance” and acknowledged China’s significant role in the Maldives’ economic success. The Maldives signed several agreements with China during the visit, covering areas such as climate, agriculture, and infrastructure. However, specific details about the value of these agreements were not disclosed, leaving room for speculation about the extent of China’s financial involvement in the Maldives’ development projects.
The Maldives, once primarily known for its luxurious holiday destinations, has become a geopolitical hotspot as major powers seek to expand their influence in the strategically significant Indian Ocean. China’s deepening ties with the Maldives not only pose challenges for India but also raise concerns globally about the expansion of China’s influence through its Belt and Road Initiative.