The Maldives has asked India to withdraw its military choppers and personnel posted in the island as the Indo-Maldives agreement has expired in June 2018.
The Maldives’ ambassador in India, Ahmed Mohamed, told Reuters that two military helicopters provided by India were mainly used for medical evacuations but were no longer required as the islands had built up enough resources of its own. “They were very useful in the past but with the development of adequate infrastructure, facilities and resources we are now in a position to handle medical evacuations on our own,” he said.
However, India and the Maldives are still conducting joint patrols in the islands’ exclusive economic zone every month, Mohamed said.
The Maldives, 400 km (250 miles) to the southwest of India, is close to the world’s busiest shipping lanes, between China and the Middle East.
Along with the helicopters, India had stationed around 50 military personnel, including pilots and maintenance crew, and their visas had expired. But New Delhi has not yet withdrawn them from the island chain. “We are still there, our two helicopters and the men,” an Indian navy spokesman said on Wednesday, adding the foreign ministry was handling the situation. The foreign ministry did not respond to a Reuters’ request for comment.
Providing helicopters and patrol boats and satellite assistance to countries such as the Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles has been part of India’s naval diplomacy to retain influence in the Indian Ocean.
But in recent years China has moved in, building ports and roads backed by loans. In the Maldives, Beijing Urban Construction Group Company Limited took over a project to expand the airport servicing the capital Male, after the government cancelled a $511 million deal with India’s GMR Infrastructure.
It may be recalled that the Maldives’ ambassador to China Mohamed Faisal said in March this year that his country would push ahead with Chinese projects and seek more investment from China, regardless of concerns raised by regional power India.
In a statement to South China Morning Post Faisal said: “It is part of a global trend now – a lot of people are seeing what China is doing because in terms of both economically and global power, China is rising…. There has been tension and pressure on the Maldives … the talk of debt traps, land grabs in the nation is because we have been working with China. If we were working with India or the US, people would not be talking.”
Since Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first state visit to the Maldives in 2014, investment from China in the nation has boomed. Apart from the two biggest projects – the airport expansion and a bridge connecting the airport to the capital Male – other Chinese investments range from social housing to island resorts.
The two nations in December last year agreed to build an ocean observation station, a project initiated by China. It has triggered concerns in India that it might be intended for more than environmental monitoring, and could have military uses too.
China’s growing investments in South Asia have fuelled worries in India, which sees ports acquired by China in Sri Lanka and Pakistan as representing “a string of pearls” to contain its regional power in the Indian Ocean.
More than 70 per cent of the Maldives’ foreign debt is owed to China, but Faisal said it was not having trouble making payments, adding that the country had some concessional loans it would be able to repay as its tourism market expanded.
Traditionally the archipelago of 1,200 islands and a population of 390,000 Muslims has been firmly in New Delhi’s sphere of influence, with India even intervening in 1988, when a group of mercenaries tried to seize power. Its support helped keep Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in power for three decades and later aided Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader.
But Male began tilting toward Beijing after Yameen, the half-brother of Gayoom, came to power in 2013 by defeating Nasheed.
In 2015, in a trial Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison. He later received asylum in Britain.
China now sees the Maldives as a crucial part of its “One Belt One Road” project along ancient trade routes through the Indian Ocean and Central Asia. The initiative envisages building ports, railways and roads to expand trade – and China’s influence – in a swathe across Asia, Africa and Europe.
China’s massive lending to poor nations for such projects has reportedly raised concerns in the West about their ability to repay. Already, Beijing has taken over ports it developed in Sri Lanka and Pakistan on long-term leases, according to western media reports.
Not surprisingly, the same poor nations are trapped in the IMF loans which they cannot repay and in many cases borrow more money from the IMF to service these loans aimed to take over economies of the poor nations.
Tellingly, in 2007, exploitation of the poor countries through western established economic institutions like IMF and World Bank was exposed by John Perkins in his popular book An Economic Hit Man.
John Perkins was an economic hit man. He defines economic hit men as, “highly paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign ‘aid’ organizations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources.
Their tools include fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, payoffs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalization.”
Perkins’ was told in confidential meetings with “special consultant” to the company that he had two primary objectives: (1) He was supposed to justify huge loans for countries. These loans would be for major engineering and construction projects, which were to be carried out by MAIN and other U.S. companies such as Bechtel, Halliburton, Stone & Webster and Brown & Root. (2) He was supposed to help bankrupt the countries that received these loans after the U.S. companies involved had been paid. This would make sure that these countries would remain in debt to their creditors and would then be easy targets when the U.S. needed favors such as military bases, UN votes and access to natural resources like oil.
Not surprisingly, Trump’s Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, said in a testimony before the U.S. Senate that the Belt and Road Initiative fits within a pattern of “aggressive” Chinese investments. He added that the purpose behind the initiative is for China to “expand their strategic influence and economic role across Asia through infrastructure projects.”
(Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net). He is the author of several books including Islam & Muslims in the 21st Century published in 2017.)