Japan in talks to establish embassy in Maldives

Additional reporting by Mohamed Saif Fathih

The Japanese government has had funding approved for an embassy in the Maldives, reports the Japan Times.

Japan’s foreign minister Fumio Kishida stated that the country aims to bolster diplomatic relations with different countries as the world marks 70 years since the end of the Second World War.

An official from the Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs have told Minivan News that negotiations are ongoing regarding the new diplomatic mission.

Japan is one of the Maldives’ largest trading partners, importing over US$5.1 million worth of goods from the Indian Ocean nation in 2013 – a year on year increase of 48 percent. However, Japanese tourists only make up around 3 percent of arrivals to the Maldives.

Statistics available from the fisheries ministry showed that Maldivian fish exports to Japan expanded rapidly last year, growing from US$4.8 million in 2013 to over US$6.8 million between January and October in 2014.

Japan has traditionally donated large amounts of aid to the Maldives, with President Abdulla Yameen explaining during a state visit to Japan last April that that Japan was the Maldives’ most generous aid partner.

Data from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency  (JICA) – which already has offices in Malé – shows that the east Asian nation gave over US$450 million to the Maldives in development assistance between 2004 and 2010.

JICA recently completed the ‘Project for Clean Energy Promotion in Malé’ with the installation of 740 solar panels in 12 government buildings in the capital, at a cost of US$11.1 million (MVR141.5 million).

Other projects benefiting from Japanese aid have included the first mechanisation of fishing vessels between 1973-76, the development of Malé’s seawall between 1987-2003, and the extension of loans amounting to US$34 million for post-tsunami reconstruction.

Last month, the Japanese government gifted the Maldives ¥100,000,000 (US$840,000) in grant aid, as well as contributing MVR13.9 million to assist with repairs to Malé’s desalination plant – partially destroyed by fire on December 4.

The capital city currently hosts five full diplomatic missions – belonging to China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The Maldives has had a full embassy in Tokyo since 2006.

According to the Japan Times, the Japanese government initially requested to create nine new embassies and six new consulates, and has opted to include six  embassies in 2015’s state budget,

In addition to the Maldives, Japan intends to establish embassies in Barbados, the Solomon Islands, Tajikistan, Moldova, and Turkmenistan. Consulates will be established in the Mexican city of Leon and the German city of Hamburg.

Related to this story

President Yameen holds talks with Japanese prime minister

Japan gifts 100 million yen to government, Hitachi MVR1 million to water crisis fund


Maldives backs new Chinese investment bank, pursues free trade deal

The Maldives is to back a Chinese-initiated international finance institution to be called the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) while ministers have confirmed a free trade agreement is being pursued.

At a press conference today, the economic council revealed that the Maldives had asked to be included as a founding member of the proposed bank alongside the existing 21 countries, which includes both China and India.

Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr Mohamed Shainee also revealed that China was to become the Maldives first free trade partner, demonstrating the pair’s excellent bilateral relations.

The requests were put forward during a recent visit to China by the Economic Council where discussions were held on proceeding with Chinese-assisted projects, while the Maldives officially signed up to the Maritime Silk Road project.

The AIIB, which is to start up with a proposed US$100 billion capital, is purposed with financing infrastructure projects in the Asia Pacific region.

The bank has been described by some media outlets as having been set up with the intentions of increasing Chinese influence in Asia at the expense of the IMF, ADB, and the World Bank.

The economic council today confirmed that the Maldives has officially agreed to participate in China’s silk road trade route – the third country to do so, although Chinese state media has reported more than 50 states as expressing interest.

The two countries have also agreed to engage upon free trade in the future, explained the council.

“The biggest advantage of the free trade will go towards fishermen. With free trade and the 12 percent export duty will be gone, thus the 12 percent becomes profit for fishermen,” said Shainee.

When questioned about the potential economic disadvantages which might occur because of a free trade agreement, Minister at the President’s office Mohamed Shareef said that both governments will make sure that the agreement leads to a ‘win-win’ for the countries.

“I want to mention that the free trade talks were initiated by the Maldives,” said Shareef. “China is willing to give us a lot of leeway into how we structure the agreement.”

Shareef also said – citing Chinese sources – that the Maldives is the number one South Asian destination for Chinese tourists at the moment. Chinese tourists currently make up around one third of all tourist arrivals to the Maldives.

The economic council also stated that work on the proposed new terminal at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) is to begin in the next six to seven months and that the request for the loan to finance the project has been submitted to the Chinese Exim bank.

The council members also reiterated the importance of the proposed Malé-Hulhulé Bridge, saying that there is good progress and that the government is aiming to open it by the year 2017.

Related to this story

Silk road deal to be concluded in China-Maldives economic committee

Chinese President Xi Jinping calls for Maldives involvement in 21st century maritime silk road

President Yameen slams “Western colonial powers,” declares foreign policy shift to East

Agreements on bridge and airport penned during Chinese president’s visit


Maldives not obliged to consult neighbours before joining China’s Silk Route, says foreign minister

The Maldives, as an independent and sovereign nation, is not obliged to consult other countries before making foreign policy decisions, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon told the People’s Majlis today.

The foreign minister appeared in parliament to respond to a question tabled by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Nashid concerning the Maldives’ participation in the Chinese ’21st Century Maritime Silk Route’ initiative.

President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jingping has called on 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.

Nashid, MP for Shaviyani Komandoo, asked whether neighbouring countries in the Indian Ocean were consulted before the decision was made.

“If we join this project, is it likely that the longstanding close relations we have with neighbouring countries could be adversely affected?” he asked.

In response, Dunya noted that the agreement signed with the British in 1965 to secure independence “states in clear language that the Maldives is not obliged to consult or seek consent or approval from any other nation to implement Maldivian foreign policy.”

Former Presidents Ibrahim Nasir and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom did not join any “military or political alliance” during the Cold War, she added, out of fear of losing the independence gained in 1965 as the Maldives would be obliged to consult major powers before making foreign policy decisions.

“We should all know that the interest of any foreign country should not take precedence over Maldivian national interest,” she said.

MDP MP Ibrahim Mohamed Didi – a retired brigadier general – asked whether relations with India could deteriorate if Chinese naval activity is conducted in a Maldivian port, which would threaten Indian “geopolitical interests”.

Dunya declined to answer citing national security concerns and advised raising the issue through parliamentary committees.

Asked if India has expressed concern with the decision, Dunya said the Indian government also welcomed the Silk Route initiative during Chinese President Xi’s visit to New Delhi in September.

Foreign policy

Dunya said President Abdulla Yameen’s foreign policy was based on Article 115(d) of the Constitution, which states that the president has a duty “to guarantee the independence and territorial integrity of the Maldives, and to promote respect for national sovereignty in the international community.”

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.

Dunya referred to a joint communique issued during President Xi’s state visit in the Maldives in September, which declared that the Maldives “welcomes and supports the proposal put forward by China to build the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and is prepared to actively participate in relevant cooperation”.

Fostering ties with South Asian countries and ensuring national security was one of the most important aims of the government’s foreign policy, she continued, noting that Maldivian security was intertwined with Indian Ocean regional security.

The Maldives would consult all nations and work together to ensure regional security and stability, she assured.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has criticised the decision to join the Silk Route initiative, contending that it would threaten Indian Ocean security and risk putting the Maldives in the middle of war or disputes between Asian powers.

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.

Asked if closer ties with China would adversely impact relations with India or Japan, President Yameen told reporters upon returning from a visit to China in August that Sino-Maldives economic cooperation would not affect “the very friendly, close relations with India”.

“All these projects are also open to India and we are doing a lot of diplomatic work with India,” he said, referring to his administration’s decision not to sign a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States as an example of cooperation.


Comment: The Maldives – a case study in contemporary diplomacy

This article was originally published on UAE Diplomacy. Republished with permission.

The Maldives is normally known for beautiful beaches and breath-taking blue sea. But these days it also brings up for a highly interesting case study in diplomatic law and contemporary diplomacy. A friend drew my attention to a recent court ruling on a case in which the Indian High Commission in Maldives failed to comply with its contractual duties as per the rent of its mission premises. According to a local newspaper article, the private landlord took the issue to the civil court which, in the first instance, rejected the claim due to a lack of jurisdiction. While this is not surprising, the court’s reasoning is. The Maldivian Civil Court ruled that it could not look into the matter because the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR) included immunity for diplomatic missions and diplomatic agents.

Jurisdiction is always a tricky notion as the term itself is not always clear. Sometimes it refers to territory (custody) only, however, most of the time it can be likened to power exercised by a state over persons, property or events. So, when a Court rejects the power of jurisdiction, it is probably that it does not consider itself the correct authority to legislate in respect to the issue of the person, property and event. Referring to the current case, it will mean that the Civil Court has decided that it is not in a position to make a judgement on the President of India, who was acting on behalf of the Republic of India. Generally-speaking, diplomatic missions and personnel enjoy certain privileges and immunities to carry out their duties or for the representation of their government. While diplomatic privileges and immunities have a long tradition, they were codified in 1961 by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR).

The VCDR regulates diplomatic privileges and immunities of diplomatic missions and its agents but has little to say on civil proceedings and matters with private subjects of international law. It primarily regulates aspects of state to state relations but not the relations with international organizations, let alone private entities or individuals. The VCDR touches, for instance, in Article 21 on the obligation of the receiving state to assist in obtaining suitable accommodation (being bought or leased). In Article 23 it states that the head of mission is exempt from dues and taxes in respect of the premises of the mission and through Article 31 the diplomatic agent receives immunity from execution (measures concerning his/her personal inviolability). Interestingly enough, subparagraph 31.4 says that the immunity of a diplomatic agent from the jurisdiction of the receiving state does not exempt him from the jurisdiction of the sending State.  In other words, and this is the only connection to the Civil Court’s ruling, without a waiver of immunity, civil proceedings against a  diplomat can only be taken in his home country.

Unsatisfied with the Civil Court’s ruling, the private landlord appealed –with quite considerable success. On 21 August, 2013 the High Court ruled in favour of the private, Maldivian landlord. In its judgment the High Court found that ‘Maldivians are not required to follow the VCDR as there is no national legislation enforcing the regulations of the convention’ (see linked newspaper article). This decision is based on the Maldivian Constitution, which stipulates in Article 93 that citizens shall only be required to act in compliance with treaties ratified by the state AND provided for in laws enacted by the parliament.

Now, there are several ways international law can be aligned with domestic law. One way is for the constitution to comment about it in a general way. For instance, the German Constitution provides a hierarchy of law, putting constitutional law first, then provisions of international treaties and then other national or federal regulations. Sometimes, when there exists international conventional law, this can interfere with national laws. As a result, states are required to legislate, meaning that they adapt to international standards or, if the terms of the international convention are not acceptable, the country in question will not ratify the convention (approval by the parliament or any other appropriate legislative body in the country).

In the current case, the Constitution of the Maldives refers a mere 12 times to international law without establishing any kind of hierarchy nor giving any specific hint as to how international law needs to be integrated in relation to national law. The closest it comes to is in Article 93 which states that ‘Maldivian citizens shall only be required to act in compliance with treaties ratified by the state and provided for in laws […].’ In this case, there appears to be an absence of clear national legislation in reference to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which the Maldives ratified back in 2007. Looking at other Commonwealth Nations such as the United Kingdom, we will find the Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Act of 1964 (the year the VCDR came into effect). This Act regulates the application of the VCDR, going into detail about potential extensions or interpretations of the articles.

While there is obviously a need for national legislation in the Maldives to clarify its position on the provisions of the VCDR, it is arguable whether this convention is relevant, at all, to the current problem. The case we have here is a situation in which a private, Maldivian individual is filing a law suit against the President of India, who was acting in the rental agreement on behalf of the Indian people. However, as stated in its preamble, the VCDR is a convention between states. Therefore, it falls into the category of public international law but has little relevance to private international law. Meanwhile, cases in which private individuals file a law suit against states do occur every now and then, these cases fall into a certain category which is internationally codified, inter alia, under the United Nations Convention on Jurisdictional Immunities of States and Their Property. While this convention was negotiated in 2004, it still has not achieved the necessary minimum number of ratifications in order to come into force. Most developed states have domestic laws regulating state immunities. For example, in the US such a law is called ‘Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act’. It stipulates that foreign governments are immune from suit in the US (state and federal courts) unless the claim falls within certain exceptions. Such exceptions include when a statesperson acts in a private capacity or is engaged in private business activities.

From the above we can draw a number of conclusions. First, the VCDR has little relevance to the case in question. It does not deal with private international law but mainly deals with matters between states and the granting of diplomatic privileges and immunities to its permanent diplomatic missions and personnel. Second, both court rulings are based on interesting justifications due to a lack of national legislation in the field of diplomatic privileges and immunities, as well as regarding the area of state immunity.  Building up to this, I would like to take up the cudgels for the Maldivian Courts. While the underlying case shows that the VCDR is partly incomplete and in some detailed aspects antiquated at best, it begs the question, are the courts of a relatively inexperienced and small country such as the Maldives to know about these details? Both courts probably had no independent experts at hand nor would the argued amount of money (US$200,000) justify a very detailed background research. Hence, the lack of clarity of the situation (why the Indian High Commission ended the rental agreement prematurely), and the fact that the High Commission would enjoy diplomatic immunities (inviolability of mission premises, immunity of diplomatic personnel) would have made investigations difficult and tedious. The take away message is that the Maldives might want to look into some vital legislative actions in order to incorporate and align international law with domestic law. This would lead to more transparency and clarity for future rulings.

Kai Bruns is an Associate Professor at the American University in the Emirates. He holds a PhD in the field of Diplomatic Studies – his doctoral thesis focused on the negotiating process leading to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR).

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]