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China's Wang Yi begins Maldives visit amid tussle with India in Indian Ocean

 
By Rahul Kumar
New Delhi, Jan 7: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in the Maldives on a two-day visit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of China-Maldives diplomatic relations.


Wang will meet Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih as well as Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid--also the President of the United Nations General Assembly's (UNGA) seventy sixth session. The two nations plan to sign several documents of cooperation.

The Chinese embassy in the Maldives tweeted: "Looking forward, State Councillor & FM Wang Yi's forthcoming visit will help enhance high-level exchanges, deepen practical cooperation in all areas, and advance the steady growth of the future-oriented all-round friendly and cooperative partnership between the two countries".

The Male trip is significant as it comes on the heels of an "India Out" campaign restarted by opposition leader and former president Abdulla Yameen who was released from jail in November. Yameen has alleged that President Solih has allowed entry to the Indian military which dents the country's sovereignty. The government has denied charges about the presence of the Indian forces.

Despite his release from the jail, the opposition leader faces a number of other cases of bribery and money laundering from his term as president. Members of Parliament in the current administration say that even his accquital became possible on technical grounds and poor investigation, not because Yameen was absolved of the charges.

Yameen is believed to be close to China and had invited Beijing to invest in his country in a big way, leading to allegations that the tiny archipelago now owes a massive debt to China. The Strait Times says that Male owes over $1 billion debt to Beijing while its total debt stands at $5.6 billion according to the World Bank.

Maldives is a part of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that has been connecting and interlinking the world through road, rail and port projects for ease of trade. However, many BRI countries like the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Kenya find themselves in poor economic health, rising debt and low standards of life for their people.

Experts say that Wang is likely to offer more assistance to Male besides initiating more projects.

India will be watching Wang's visit with tepidation as the two South Asian nations managed to reset ties after President Solih wrested power from Yameen. To ensure that the Indian Ocean island remains within India's sphere of influence, New Delhi made a global effort to support Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid's candidature for the presidency of the UNGA in 2021.

The two South Asian nations have collaborated on defence and security matters also.

Wang's visit comes just one day after India released money for eight High Impact Community Development projects to the Maldives. A local news website reported that the eight projects cover construction of buildings, an ice-factory and a cultural centre. The projects directly impact local people as these relate to procurement of ambulances, providing education as well as the installation of street lights.

After concluding his Male visit, Wang will fly to Sri Lanka as China makes a renewed effort to shore up relations with South Asian nations. Over the last few years, New Delhi made belated but successful efforts in mending relations with Sri Lanka in a bid to balance Chinese sway with both Maldives and Sri Lanka.

(The content is being carried under an arrangement with indianarrative.com)

--indianarrative