- The Maldives-China agreement to build an observatory in the Indian Ocean is most likely to be scrapped soon.
- It is considered as a big win for India in securing India’s maritime concerns.
- The latest development took place after the recent visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Maldives.
- It has also been reported that the Maldives is also planning to withdraw itself from the free trade pact with China.
Background of the deal:
- In 2017, China and the Maldives finalized an official agreement called the Protocol on Establishment of Joint Ocean Observation Station.
- Former Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen, who was perceived as being close to China, signed the agreement during his tenure.
- The agreement was meant to allow China to construct an observatory at Makunudhoo, the westernmost atoll of the Maldives in the north.
- The finalisation of the agreement had set off concerns in India.
Why India was concerned with this deal?
- Makunudhoo Island is one of the closest islands to India and would have allowed the Chinese access to an important Indian Ocean shipping route through which many ships and merchants pass.
- It was also claimed that the observatory had a military application with provision even for a submarine base, which could have been a major security challenge to India.
- The observatory was considered as another pearl in the string of pearls China is building around India.
- It was also considered as an attempt to acquire accurate hydrological data for sub-surface operations of India including possible deployment of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs).
- The observatory would have opened a Chinese maritime front against India, in the same quiet way that China opened a Himalayan front against India in the 1950s.
Improved Bilateral Relations:
- Under former President Yameen, China significantly increased its presence in Maldives including a $ 3.2 Billion debt in construction activities in Maldives.
- India’s relation with Maldives had hit an all-time low when Abdullah Yameen imposed an emergency and arrested key leaders in February 2018.
- However, India’s bilateral relations with Maldives has improved substantially after the 2018 elections in Maldives.
- The new Maldives President has spoken of “India first” policy.
- In that direction, India has extended a $1.4 Billion financial support for socio-economic development of Maldives.
- In March 2019, India extended $800 million Line of Credit to assist Maldives achieve sustainable social and economic development.
- During the recent visit of PM Modi to Maldives, the countries also signed six key agreements and PM Modi was also conferred with the Maldives’ highest honour “The Rule of Nishan Izzuddeen” by the Maldives President.