The Maldives’ participation in the Chinese ’21st Century Maritime Silk Road’ initiative would threaten regional security in the Indian Ocean, contends former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Speaking at a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rally last night, the opposition leader said President Abdulla Yameen was heading towards disrupting regional security with his willingness to participate in the silk route initiative, which passes through the Maldives.
“There’s no need for a route of a particular people here. This country belongs to Maldivians,” he said, noting that traders from many countries have visited the Maldives for thousands of years.
The Maldives throughout its long history has served the Indian Ocean and people from various countries, including China, Nasheed continued, who were welcome to visit and dock their vessels in the country.
The Maldives should not participate in an initiative to facilitate trade and growth of a specific nation, he said.
According to China’s Xinhua News Agency, the Maritime Silk Road – linking China to the east coast of Africa and the Mediterranean – and a separate overland Silk Road will bring “new opportunities and a new future to China and every country along the road that is seeking to develop.”
“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,” read a joint communique issued during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent state visit.
President Yameen also told the press that the Maldives was “honoured to now feature among China’s partners in building the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road – a unique vision of President Xi, which will bring Asian neighbours closer together.”
China’s rising economic presence in the Indian Ocean region has stoked concerns in New Delhi that China is creating a “string of pearls” that surrounds India and threatens its security, 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.
Nasheed went on to say that the Maldives should ensure its independence as well as the regional security of the Indian Ocean, which was a longstanding duty of Maldivian leaders.
“For hundreds of years, leader after leader has upheld the interest of the Maldives along with the security of the Indian Ocean,” he said.
President Yameen’s willingness to participate in the initiative would mark a shift in non-aligned foreign policy, he added, calling on the president to reconsider the decision.
A “responsible Maldivian leader” would not jeopardise the country’s security by risking being caught in the middle of war or disputes between great powers, Nasheed said.
Maldivian foreign policy should not seek to benefit from strife and discord, he added.
“In my view, we should not under any circumstances base our foreign policy on playing or turning one nation against another,” he said.