Security India’s main concern in Indian Ocean but for China success of OROB
New Delhi, Sep 25: If India considers the Maldives as an old ally in its Indian Ocean courtyard than China looks at the island nation for its key location along the route of One Road One Belt (OROB) Corridor which intends to develop a network of trade linkages with Asia, Africa and even Europe. So this is where the interest of both the countries - India and China - lies in the Maldives.
The person with pro-India image Ibrahim Mohammad Solih has emerged victorious but what will be the policy of the new government is to be watched for. However, security experts feel that there have been changes in the government and policy review happens but scrapping projects does not take place be it the case of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and possibly in case of the Maldives also.
A new hope for India!
India is hoping to better its relations so its investment in the island nation may resume. But everything depends on the Indian government's decision to reach out to the country and ease out burden of Chinese debt on Maldives. India must take a pro-active role in it. There may be some policy change but old agreements are difficult to scrap. The question is that will the new government give equal opportunity to India as far as economic investment is concern? As after the cancellation of GMR project contract, there was a kind of deadlock. However, OBOR will not be impacted completely but certainly change may have impact on some projects under OROB.
China Comes in the picture for OROB
A country with over 1,200 islands spreading in around 90,000 sq km with a population of around 4 lakh has been under the political influence of India for decades but China started engagement with the country recently after finding it as one of the important place to invest in for its OROB project.
Security concern of India
Chinese presence right from Strait of Malacca to Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka and in the Maldives raised the concern of India which started feeling that Chinese 'String Of Pearl' policy at work to build economic and military ties to contain India and take them out of Indian influence. India has more of a strategic concern but outgoing President Abdulla Yameen using Chinese money for infrastructure projects furthered India's concern which was amplified when three Chinese naval ships docked in Male in August 2017.
Indian's security concern of the region
Since the time of Maldives independence in 1966 and after Operation Cactus in 1988, relations between India and Maldives have been growing significantly with India providing not only extensive economic aid but also helping develop infrastructure, health, civil aviation, telecommunications and labour resources. India's exports to Maldives during 2006 were worth Rs 3.84 billion, imports were worth less than Rs 60 million. But the main concern of India has been security of the region so Indian Navy gifted a Trinkat Class Fast Attack Craft of 46 m length to Maldives in 2006 to National Defence Force's Coast Guard.
It also started process of bringing the country into India's security grid on the country's request in 2009 and permanently based two helicopters to enhance surveillance capabilities and ability to respond swiftly to threats. But security was the main concern by providing radar facility. Indian Coast Guard (ICG) carry out regular Dornier sorties over the island nation to look out for suspicious movements or vessels. There were many military cooperation that how India manages security and surveillance of the critical island chain.
Strategic experts told One India that ties between the two countries strained after the cancellation of the GMR airport contract but the real reason for New Delhi's anguish is said to be the anti-India sentiments being aired by some political parties in President Mohamed Waheed's coalition. Still in the wake of a drinking water crisis in Male on December 4, 2014, India came to rescue by sending its heavy lift transporters like C-17 Globemaster III, Il-76 carrying bottled water and by many other ways.
China engaging with the Maldives!
China capitalized on the straining relations of Maldives with India. At the moment there is a huge Chinese investments in the Maldives in infrastructure projects including $830 million investment for up gradation of the Maldives airport and building a 2km long bridge to link the airport with Male - the capital of the country. China is also building a 25-storied apartment complex and hospital. Chinese tourists are visiting the Maldives with around 306,000 tourists last year which was 21 per cent of the total visitors to the country.
Bilateral issue between India and Maldives under Yameen?
There were many bilateral issues between India and the Maldives during Yameen's Presidency. Prime Minister Narendra Modi canceled his state visit to the island nation in 2015 the treatment of Mohamed Nasheed, the former pro-India Maldivian president who had been jailed. The Maldives also declined India's invitation to take part in its biennial eight-day naval exercise, Milan, this year.
But the Maldives is under heavy debt. The infrastructure development plans signed by China and the Maldives during Yameen's tenure has put the nation is $1.3 billion in debt to China which is more than a quarter of its gross domestic product (GDP).
Expert feel that after Yameen, who has drawn the Maldives closer to China, his successor Ibrahim Mohamed Solih could be about to tip the power balance between the two Asian giants. But the debt may see the country making major concessions as its neighbour Sri Lanka has which was forced to sign a 99-year lease with China for the port of Hambantota after it was unable to repay loans. But for China if it is business interest then for India it is both business and strategic concern.