Why Abdulla Yameen’s ouster is good news for India
Maldives has become a showpiece of mega projects-driven Chinese foreign policy as well as an important player in President Xi Jinping’s marquee one-road-one-belt project.
The electoral defeat of Abdulla Yameen in Maldives on Monday brought a sigh of relief for India. For, all that could have gone wrong between two countries, had gone wrong under Yameen’s presidency.
Much before the internal Emergency in February 2018 and crackdown on judges and opposition leaders drove an unassailable wedge between the two countries, Yameen’s cosying up to Beijing had made New Delhi uncomfortable.
The dictates of geography have always made India concerned about what happens in Maldives.
A South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation member country, Maldives sits just 700km from the Lakshadweep island chain and some 1,200km from the Indian mainland.
It is a strategically important country in the Indian Ocean region, which has more than 40 states and nearly 40% of the world’s population. It touches Australia, South-east Asia, South Asia, West Asia and the eastern sea bend of Africa.
More than 97% of India’s international trade by volume and 75% by value passes through the Indian Ocean.
Beijing could substantially raise its level of engagements under Yameen’s rule.
Although the Chinese footprint in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region is something New Delhi has learnt to live with despite an understandable unease, the rapid expansion in ties between Male and Beijing has become a larger cause of concern.
Maldives has become a showpiece of mega projects-driven Chinese foreign policy as well as an important player in president Xi Jinping’s marquee one-road-one-belt project.
Chinese presence in the island nation has been growing steadily ever since Beijing opened an embassy in Male in 2011, about 37 years after India set up its mission there.
Maldives is the only country after Pakistan that China has a free trade agreement with.
“What the Maldives does with China or any other country is its choice. But for us, the trouble began when the administration didn’t practice what it has said -- an ‘India first’ policy. It was conveyed at many levels, including the foreign minister level, that the ‘India first’ policy is as important a part of taking bilateral ties forward as India’s ‘neighbourhood first’ policy,” explained an Indian official.
The negotiations for the free-trade agreement between China and Maldives took just three years to complete. It was rushed through Parliament, making many opposition MPs express their concerns. Soon enough, China kicked off a stream of mega projects – including the Friendship Bridge and Laamu Atoll Link Road – in Maldives. Reciprocal visits by premiers Xi and Yameen to each other’s countries further boosted ties, as relations with India nosedived.
India’s consistent urging of listening to the Supreme Court order of releasing the jailed Opposition had fallen on deaf ears under Yameen.