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Politics & Law

Competition for Maldives between India and China: a “Global Threat”?


The ‘City of Hope’ is being built on an artificial island called Hulhumale, near the capital city Male of Maldives (source: Getty via New Scientist)

“Trouble in Maldives Paradise could become a Global Threat: A power struggle in the tiny nation could pull India and China into conflict”, says The New York Times Editorial on Feb 11, 2018. Is it really so?

Imagine you were the government leader of Maldives which, according to many scientific reports and actual measurements, is facing rising sea level due to global warming effects, what would you have done to save your country when India offers you a military pact on one hand while China offers you an economic deal on the other?

The New York Times editorial, other than a brief summary of the recent domestic politics inside this small country with only 430,000 citizens, provides no concrete rationale to substantiate the danger of its so-called “global threat”, and no mention of the environmental crisis this nation is suffering from.

Owing to a coup, Maldives’ incumbent president Abdulla Yameen (2013- ) declared a state of emergency on Feb 6, and ordered the arrest of two Supreme Court judges and opposition politicians. He sent envoys to China, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan for support, bearing in mind that most of the people there are Muslims.

On the other side, the exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed (2008-12) urged India to send an envy backed by its military to release the political prisoners.

It appears that India and China are vying for influence in this 1,200-island nation. However, with reference to The Times of India’s historical account on “How ‘India First’ turned into ‘China First’ for Maldives”, what we can see is that New Delhi simply made some miscalculations. India has been regarding Maldives as part of its backyard for decades. With the fear that Beijing may come to secure a port for military purpose, India and Maldives jointly reached a defence cooperation pact so as to prevent China from having an access here. What subsequently happened was that Maldives and China finalized a free-trade agreement in Dec 2017.

Maldives is in need of huge investments in infrastructure so as to fend off the rising sea level or otherwise this nation would disappear eventually. So, what is the point of making defence pact with India? India is not giving what Maldives wants.

On the contrary, Maldives is one of the favorite resorts of the Chinese tourists. As the Chinese people spend money here, it is not unreasonable that Beijing wants to earn some money back by selling products such as air-conditioners or solar panels to Maldives. Furthermore, Maldives is building new ‘land mass’ well above the sea level for long term survival, and trying to open income sources for sustainability. If India and various OECD countries are not willing to help, China is the only choice left for Maldives.

Maldives is just the latest example of those developing countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Chile, Argentina, Sudan, South Africa … which all lived under the shadow of their colonists respectively for decades but with little growth that now have a second chance by choosing China as an alternative. The China Model may not be suitable for them, but at least it is better to remain in the old trap.

Neither Beijing nor New Delhi would like to have a combat for Maldives, let alone a “global threat” to world peace. It is simply a contest of wisdom and vision for economic growth.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

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About keith K C Hui

Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate major in Government and Public Administration and the author of "Helmsman Ruler: China's Pragmatic Version of Plato's Ideal Political Succession System In The Republic" (2013).

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