- India chose to stay away from the inauguration of Sinamale Bridge (a bridge linking capital Male with the airport island) which is China’s flagship infrastructure project in the Maldives.
- It has again brought into focus the widening gulf between India and its Indian Ocean neighbour.
About Sinamale Bridge
- Maldives considers it as the biggest achievement in our diplomatic history.
- It is 1.4 km bridge.
- Also known as China-Maldives Friendship Bridge.
- A grant of $116 million by China.
- Apart from the grant, Beijing also provided $72 million as loan.
- The financing of the bridge has sparked fears of Male getting enmeshed further in Chinese debt net.
- Given the lack of transparency and parliamentary scrutiny in government affairs, no one really knows the actual cost of the project.
- India has been alarmed by the manner in which the cost of the project shot up in the past few years.
- Maldives has handed over almost entire Hulumale construction work, including several thousand housing units to Chinese companies without any bidding.
- Thus, in actual Maldives is effectively giving to Chinese far more than what It has received as loan to be repaid with commercial interest.
- After the independence of Maldives from the British rule in 1966, India established formal diplomatic relations with Maldives.
- India gave military aid of 1600 soldiers to Maldives through Operation Cactus to fight the armed attack of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) supported rebel groups in 1988 for an attempted coup.
- India has provided liberal economic aid and cooperated with Maldives for improving its Infrastructure.
- India provided bottled water through its helicopters to Maldives when its only water treatment plant collapsed in December 2014.
- India shares very close military ties with Maldives by having two helicopter bases, integration of radars and Indian Coast Guard surveillance along Maldivian coast. India also aims to remain as a net security provider to Maldives.
How distance grew between them?
- Mohamed Nasheed, one of the foremost political rivals of President Yameen, became the island nation’s first democratically elected president in 2008.
- However, in 2012, Nasheed was forced by police and army officers to resign under gunpoint over detention of a top judge.
- In 2015, Nasheed was convicted under terrorism charges and was sentenced to 13 years in prison for arresting Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed when he was in office.
- In Feb 2018, the Maldives Supreme Court had ordered the release of high-profile prisoners including Nasheed and former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb.
- It had also reinstated 12 MPs earlier stripped of their seats, in effect giving the Opposition coalition a majority, and making Yameen vulnerable to impeachment.
- In reaction to this, emergency was declared by President Abdullah Yameen.
- Yameen ordered the arrest of Supreme Court judges and former President Gayoon, who is also his half-brother.
- Following this, India constantly urged Maldives to restore democracy, but Emergency continued for 45 days before it was lifted
- The Emergency proclamation was seen by India as an attempt to quell opposition in Maldives.
- As relations between the two governments frayed, Malé asked New Delhi to take back two helicopters stationed for medical evacuation and rescue work.
- Rules were also tightened for Indian workers in the Maldives tourism sector, and work visas are being tightened, causing some worry in Delhi.
- In June, a prominent leader from the Maldives ruling party, was not allowed to enter India, prompting Malé to raise the issue with New Delhi.
- With Maldivian elections due on September 23, India does not want to be seen to be as interventionist.
- Maldives has emerged as the latest theatre of the geopolitical tussle between India and China.
- Maldives has been carefully using its newfound proximity to China to make India wary.
Increasing influence of China in Maldives
- China opened an embassy in the Maldives in 2011.
- It has rapidly built ties with the tropical island chain as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
- In recent years China has moved in the Indian Ocean, building ports and roads backed by loans.
- In the Maldives, Beijing Urban Construction Group Company Limited took over a project to expand the airport servicing the capital Male, after the government cancelled a $511 million deal with India’s GMR Infrastructure
Importance of Maldives for India
- The Maldives, 400 km (250 miles) to the southwest of India is strategically located in the Indian Ocean, and India being a major power in the Indian Ocean region has the highest stake in the stability of Maldives for various reasons like:
- Securing sea lanes of communication, Fighting piracy and sea based terrorism,
- Countering China’s string of pearls policy,
- Making Indian ocean a conflict free zone and restoring its status as sea of tranquil,
- Exploring blue economy and Enhancing trade.
- Security of Indian expatriates working there.
- It is close to the world’s busiest shipping lanes, between China and the Middle East.