The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has welcomed the statement by the Embassy of China in Maldives refuting claims by former President Mohamed Nasheed that a military facility was being planned in Laamu Atoll.
Denying suggestions that the Maldivian government planned to hand over large parts of the atoll under the Special Economic Zones Act, the embassy stated yesterday (25 January) that China “pursues a national defense policy that is defensive in nature” and that it “does not maintain any military in any foreign country”.
In a statement released yesterday evening, the MDP noted that China had a record of protecting its interest in primary markets with military facilities.
The statement went on to offer the example of the Chinese defence ministry announcing in December 2011 that its naval fleet “may seek supplies or recuperate” in harbours of the Seychelles during escort missions.
International reports at the time stated that the potential cooperation with the island nation, off the east coast of Africa, had come after a request made by the Seychelles government, with some Chinese media outlets reporting that a military base had been offered.
While speaking to the press after returning from a trip to Abu Dhabi last week (January 22), Nasheed alleged that the Maldives was to hand over large parts of the southern atoll to China for a military base on a 99-year lease, in exchange for US$2 billion.
Yesterday, the MDP party president described China’s as having “reconsidering their strategic plans in the Indian Ocean”.
China yesterday assured that it will uphold the principles of peaceful coexistence while aiding Maldives in maintaining and promoting peace and development, upon which it said the Maldives-China relationship is based.
China and the Maldives signed a military aid agreement under the government of Dr Mohamed Waheed in December 2012, to develop military ties and provide free Chinese aid to the Maldives National Defence Force.
The country’s rising economic presence in the Indian Ocean region has stoked concerns in New Delhi that it is creating a ‘string of pearls’ to encircle India, including Chinese investments in ports and other key projects in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Suggestions by foreign minister Dunya Maumoon last November that China had officially discussed its Maritime Silk Route with India were quickly rebutted by Indian officials.
After the MDP condemned Dunya for “intentionally” providing false information about the Chinese project, the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives suggested that the opposition party was attempting to provoke tension with international allies.
Last month, the Maldives officially agreed to participate in the Silk Road trade route, becoming the third country to do so, while also revealing that the two countries have agreed to engage upon free trade in the future.
Chinese state media has connected the Maritime Silk Road Project, which which will link China to the east coast of Africa and the Mediterranean, to the proposed ‘iHavan’ transshipment port – one of five mega-projects designed to take advantage of the US$18 trillion worth of goods transported across the seven degree channel annually.
President Yameen has made clear his intention to further pursue already rapidly expanding ties with China, announcing a policy shift to the east while criticising the interference of western powers.
China also accounts for one third of all tourists visiting the Maldives.
(PHOTO: By Cpl. Scott M. Biscuiti; US Marines training with MNDF, Laamu Kadhoo, 2007)
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