India Puts Roadblocks Before China’s BRI In Maldives With Another Defense Deal

India seems to have put a roadblock before China’s ambitions Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the Maldives by offering a defense line of credit to the island nation.

Reiterating its commitment to the Maldives’ security, the agreement between New Delhi and Male is aimed at boosting the maritime capabilities of the strategic island nation.

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India also signed a slew of agreements with the Ibrahim Mohamed Solih government to boost infrastructure in the Maldives, during External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar’s visit over the weekend.

Jaishankar held talks with Maldivian Defense Minister Mariya Didi, Minister of Finance Ibrahim Ameer, Minister of Economic Development Fayyaz Ismail, and Minister of National Planning, Housing and Infrastructure Mohamed Aslam.

During his meeting with the defense minister, Jaishankar assured her that India would always be a reliable security partner for the Maldives. After reviewing the various facets of defense and security cooperation, the two signed an agreement to develop, support, and maintain the Maldives National Defense Force Coast Guard Harbour at Sifavaru (Uthuru Thilafalhu).

The joint statement with his counterpart highlighted that “the agreement was signed pursuant to the request Government of Maldives made in April 2013 for support and cooperation of the Government of India to assist the Government of Maldives for enhancing the capability of the Defense Forces of the Maldives in exercising jurisdiction and undertaking maritime surveillance of its Exclusive Economic Zone and islands”.

The statement also mentioned that the announcement has come six months after India announced support to the Greater Malé Connectivity – Malé to Thilafushi Link Project (GMCP). In August 2020, India had announced a $500 million financial package to fund the Maldives’ Greater Malé Connectivity Project.

This was one of the projects China was lobbying for on the island nation. China had undertaken massive infrastructure development in the Maldives under the previous president Abdulla Yameen’s government as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.

Like the four-lane China-Maldives Friendship Bridge which loops over 2km of the Indian Ocean to connect the Maldivian capital with its international airport and the fast-growing artificial island of Hulhumale, China portrays Maldivian projects as an example for development in small countries.

However, the current president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has taken a different view of the Chinese investments after coming to power. The country has been saddled with vast debts owed to China. In 2019, the finance ministry had shown that the country owed $600m directly to Beijing.

The Mumbai-based foreign policy think tank, Gateway House, has pegged China’s investment in multiple housing projects, a power plant, a bridge, water, and sewage treatment plants of the Maldives at $1.5.

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