China has invited Maldives to actively participate in the Maritime Silk Road (MSR) project, an initiative to string together partnerships with countries in the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean, including India, in the wake of the decision by the United States to bolster its military capability in the region.
Visiting President Xi Jinping prefaced his visit by welcoming Male’s intent to get “actively involved in the 21st century Silk Road initiative”.
Mr. Xi first referred to the proposal in 2013 during a visit to Indonesia. Chinese officials said that the MSR symbolises the continuity of their maritime traditions, which were amplified by the voyages to the Asia-Pacific, South Asia, West Asia and East Africa by the famous 15th-century Chinese mariner, Zheng He.
But aware of Indian sensitivities about China’s growing maritime prominence in the Indian Ocean, officials in Beijing have stressed that their country is not pursuing an India containment policy.
China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jianchao told resident journalists last Tuesday that China “has never, and will not, use so-called military or other means to try to hem in India”.
“There is no strategic competition between China and India in our relationship and there is certainly no such word as ‘surround’,” he observed.
Xinhua quoted Ye Hailin of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences that Maldives was “a key link of the Maritime Silk Road”, and China planned to utilise its ports. Analysts pointed out that the newly-formed BRICS bank and Asian Development and Investment Bank (ADIB), could be involved in funding maritime infrastructure, including ports and investment parks, as well as energy and information technology hubs in countries belonging to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and South Asia, under the MSR initiative.
In a signed article that was widely published in the local media in the Maldives, Mr. Xi said, he hoped to “map out the blueprint” of the relationship with Male during talks with his Maldivian counterpart, AbdullanYameen.
Chinese tourists have begun to flood Maldives, but their presence is also fuelling anxieties, apparently on account of the growing jihadi influence in the idyllic archipelago.
In an interview with The Independent, former President Mohamed Nasheed claimed that up to 200 Maldivians were fighting for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Maldives is also on the frontline of the global warming debate and Mr. Xi has offered to work together with Male on climate change.