Alarm bells are ringing afresh in the Indian security establishment over renewed efforts by China to expand its footprint in Maldives, writes Rajat Pandit for the Times of India.
“With China poised to establish a full-fledged embassy at Maldives, strategically located southwest of India astride major sea lanes in IOR, officials say Beijing has stepped up its ‘lobbying’ to bag a couple or more crucial development projects in the 1,190-island archipelago.
China, in particular, seems interested in developing Ihavandhoo and Maarandhoo Islands, with transhipment ports among other things, as well as grabbing a piece of action in the development of the country’s second international airport at Hanimaadhoo.
China’s efforts to make further inroads into Maldives have gained momentum after the visit of Wu Bangguo, the chairman of the standing committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress, to Male’ in May.
China has for long being building maritime and other linkages with eastern Africa, Seychelles, Mauritius, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Cambodia, among others. Pakistan has been a more-than-willing partner in all this, with the Gwadar deep-sea port being built with Chinese help in Baluchistan.
China’s main aim is to ensure the security of its sea lanes facilitating its critically-needed energy imports. But there is no getting away from the fact that it also amounts to a virtual encircling of India, in what is called the “string-of-pearls” construct.
India, too, has been taking steps to counter China’s strategic moves by stepping up its defence engagement with countries like Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles. After defence minister A K Antony’s visit to Male in August 2009, for instance, Indian warships and Dornier reconnaissance aircraft are helping Maldives in maritime patrol and surveillance. New Delhi is also assisting Male to set up a network of ground radars in all its 26 atolls and link them with the Indian military surveillance systems.”