The Indian government has moved to correct suggestions made in the Maldives’ parliament last week that it had discussed joining China’s New Silk Road initiative.
When asked about the potential impact of the scheme on India-Maldives relations, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon had told MPs that India had also discussed participating during the recent state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinpeng.
In order to clarify the issue, Indian diplomats in Malé have released a statement in which India’s External Affairs Ministry denies such talks having taken place.
“[T]his matter was neither raised, nor discussed, nor is it reflected in any of the outcomes of the visit of President Xi Jinping to India,” the ministry official told Indian media on Thursday (November 6).
“I hope that clarifies that this was neither raised, nor discussed, nor is it reflected in any of the outcome documents available publicly on the visit of President Xi Jinping to India.”
President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jingpeng has received positive responses from President Abdulla Yameen to his calls for the Maldives “to get actively involved” in the creation of a maritime trade route linking China to the east coast of Africa and the Mediterranean.
China’s rising economic presence in the Indian Ocean region has stoked concerns in New Delhi that China is creating a “string of pearls” to encircle India, including Chinese investments in ports and other key projects in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
In response to opposition fears over the impact on neighbouring countries, Dunya told the Majlis that the government always remained mindful of regional security.
“His Excellency Xi Jinping visited India. India very much welcomed his visit and they discussed participating in various initiatives of China and participating in the Silk Route,” said Dunya.
However, the minister made clear that the Maldives, as a sovereign nation, was not compelled to consult with others on foreign policy decisions.
The government decided to participate in the Silk Route initiative as it would promote national interest and benefit the Maldivian people through trade and commerce, she said.
The rise in Sino-Maldivian links over the past three years appears to have coincided with a relative cooling of relations between the Maldives’ and its traditional ally, India.
While Chinese tourists make up around one-third of the one million-plus tourists visiting the Maldives each year, developmental aid is increasingly becoming a key feature of the relationship.
President Xi Jinpeng became the first Chinese head of state to visit the Maldives in September, as part of a regional tour which also took in Tajikistan, Sri Lanka, and India. A number of agreements, including a preliminary deal to redevelop Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), were signed during the stop in Malé.
The new INIA agreement comes as the previous developers, India’s GMR, wait to hear how much they are to receive in damages after a Singapore arbitration court ruled their prematurely terminated contract with the Government of Maldives to have been “valid and binding”.