Maldives’ satellite bid, Chinese involvement leads to India’s alleged security concerns

The Indian government is intervening at the “highest levels” to “push” the Indian Space Research Organisation (IRSO) to submit a proposal for the joint manufacturing, launch and operations of a Maldives’ communications satellite as a means to improve bilateral relations, claims the Hindustan Times.

The IRSO did not initially submit a proposal, considering the project “not viable” given China’s interest and presence in the Indian Ocean Region. They later requested the Indian Ministry of External Affairs to partly subsidise the project, according to Indian media.

The High Commission of India (HCI) in the Maldives is unsure whether the report’s claims are accurate.

“The HCI knows of the [Communications Authority of Maldives (CAM)] request for proposals and discussions with the Maldivian government did occur,” HCI official Shri P S Karthigeyan told Minivan News today.

“However, beyond that the current status of the project is not known,” he added.

Karthigeyan confirmed that Maldivian Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim is traveling to India April 15 to 18, was its unaware if his agenda includes discussions regarding the satellite project.

“The topic is on the bilateral agenda and will be taken up with Nazim. Not only Chinese companies but others too are interested in the Maldivian project,” media quoted an anonymous Indian Ministry of External Affairs official as saying.

Indian security agencies are concerned about increased Chinese participation in neighboring countries’ communication satellite projects, according to various Indian media outlets.

The Indian government plans to discourage giving orbital slots to China through a “mix of investments and diplomatic negotiations”.

India’s Antrix Corporation could bid for this project to scuttle any possible venture with the Chinese, reported the Hindu Business Line.

“ISRO may consider sending a delegation to Maldives to explore the possibility of cooperation in space technology. Maldives could be sensitised to India’s security concerns with regard to the presence of third countries in areas close to its borders,” an Indian government official was quoted as saying.

A meeting was held in late March with Indian intelligence agencies, ministries, and the department of space to discuss China’s growing influence in South Asia, according to Indian media.

“Analysts suspect a Chinese hand behind recent setbacks India has suffered in the region, such as the scrapping of GMR’s airport deal in Maldives and Sri Lanka raising duties on Indian auto imports. China’s economic rise is gradually eroding India’s ability to wield influence in its immediate neighbourhood,” claimed the Economic Times.

The CAM Chief Executive Officer Ilyas Ahmed has denied receiving an official proposal from India, however a proposal from the Indian government “must be considered,” according to local media.

“We are looking to complete the process during this month. The selecting of a company had been delayed due to the processing,” Ahmed stated.

Companies from China, UK, Netherlands, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Thailand had “expressed interest” prior to the proposal submission deadline, claims local media.

The CAM extended the proposal deadline from January 31, 2013 to February 28, 2013 after interested parties expressed difficulties because the previous time period for submission was too short.

Nazim’s dealings with China

The initial CAM project announcement was made while Nazim was on an official five-day visit to China, where he signed a military aid agreement with Chinese National Defence Minister General Liang Guanglie.

Nazim met with two Chinese companies interested in launching and operating a satellite designated for the Maldives during a December 2012 visit to China, former Minister of Communication Dr Ahmed Shamheed previously claimed.

According to Shamheed, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim has 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.

Shamheed previously told Minivan News that the Maldives government was potentially entitled to an “orbital slot” for a satellite from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). However, because the Maldives’ currently lacks the capabilities to launch and operate a satellite, the state would have to lease out the slot to an external party.

Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, the Communications Authority of Maldives, and the Indian Space Research Organisation had not responded to calls from Minivan News at time of press.