Indian authorities have expressed concern over China’s expanding influence in the IT and telecom sectors in the Maldives, Indian media has reported.
The Indian Ministry of Communications and IT, along with security agencies in India, have now agreed that Beijing’s state-owned companies should be “kept at bay” from Maldives’ IT and telecom sectors, The Hindu reported.
Indian intelligence agencies were alerted to the issue after the Maldives requested a soft loan of US$54 million for an IT infrastructure project from China
The Ministry has suggested the Indian government plan a substantial investment in the Maldives along similar projects to ensure telecom traffic between India and Maldives is handled through equipment the Indian government has confidence in.
“The Government… may also plan substantial investment in the Maldives on similar projects [as being planned by China] ensuring that the traffic between India and the Maldives is handled through the equipment installed and commissioned in the Maldives by India,” read internal government note, according to Indian newspaper the Hindu.
The Sri Lankan subsidiary of Chinese telecom equipment-maker Huawei Technologies has already signed an agreement with Maldives’ National Centre of Information Technologies to develop IT infrastructure under the ‘Smart Maldives Project’, Indian media stated.
“The proposed project assumes significance due to the fact that China can capitalise its influence over the Maldives to utilise the latter’s network once the project is implemented,” the Indian Reasearch & Analysis Wing said in an internal note as reported by the Hindu.
Minivan News was awaiting a response from Indian Minister for Communications & Information Technology Shri Kapil Sibal and Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid at time of press.
Former Transport and Communications Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed claimed the issue of Chinese involvement in the Maldivian IT sector had been raised by Indian officials in the past.
Shamheed said that a ‘smart card’ project that had been signed between China and Nasheed’s government to replace the National ID cards had sparked interest from the Indian government.
“The Indian High Commissioner in the Maldives once suggested to me that [the Chinese] would steal all of our government’s data should we work with them.
“The deal with the Chinese was that they would provide us with smart cards which will replace our current ID cards. When this happened, the Indian government wanted to provide us with their own system instead of the Chinese one,” Shamheed told Minivan News.
Acting Minister of Transport and Communications Mohamed Nazim was not responding to calls at time of press.
Defence Minister visits China
Last month (December 10, 2012) Minister of Defence and National Security Mohamed Nazim departed to China on an official five-day visit at the invitation of the Chinese Minister of National Defence.
The move fuelled speculation in the Indian media of a Chinese role in the government’s decision to void the agreement and evict the GMR-led consortium that took place two days prior to the visit in December.
“Looking at the political situation and political framework in Maldives, I can’t rule out anything,” GMR Airports chief financial officer (CFO) Sidharth Kapur told journalists in New Delhi in December.
Following official talks between the defence ministers, Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency reported in December that Nazim assured Chinese Minister of National Defence General Liang Guanglie that the Maldives was “willing to cement relations between the two countries and their militaries.”
Chinese companies discuss Maldives’ satellite slot
Former Minister of Communication Dr Ahmed Shamheed told Minivan News in December 2012 that Defence Minister Nazim had met with two Chinese companies interested in operating a satellite designated for the Maldives.
Under the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Maldives could be entitled to an “orbital slot” for a satellite.
Because the Maldives’ lacks the capabilities to launch and operate a satellite, the state would have to lease it out to an external party, Shamheed said.
According to Shamheed, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim had already been approached by various Chinese companies who have expressed interest in the satellite venture.
“At first, I had been involved in casual meetings with these companies, but now it seems to getting more serious. Nazim had even questioned as to why we have not yet signed an agreement with them,” Shamheed alleged.