India defuses the Chinese bomb in Maldives. Maldives says thank you!

Maldives, India, Solih, Modi

In what comes as a landmark moment in the bilateral relations of India and Maldives, New Delhi on Thursday announced that it will provide half-a-billion dollar funding to the island nation for several Infrastructure projects that will change the face of the archipelago. The 500 million dollar financial package consists of a grant of 100 million dollar and a new Line of Credit (LOC) of $ 400 million. The announcement came after a virtual meeting held between External affairs minister Dr. S. Jaishankar and Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid.

The Greater Malé Connectivity Project (GMCP) is being billed as the largest ever infrastructure project in the country. The project will connect the capital city of Maldives- Malé with Villingili, Thilafushi and Gulhifalhu via bridges and causeways of a total length of 6.695 kilometres.

The Indian readout of the meet reads, “Once completed, this landmark project will streamline connectivity between the 4 islands, thereby, boosting economic activity, generating employment and promoting holistic urban development in the Malé region.”

In the meeting, Jaishankar also announced the creation of an air bubble with the Maldives to facilitate the movement of people from both sides for employment, tourism and medical emergencies.

With the massive investments, India has killed two birds with one stone in the Indian Ocean Region– killing China’s debt diplomacy in the Maldives and cementing its bilateral ties with the Maldives.

New Delhi has sent a stern message to China that it is increasingly becoming a major player in the Indian Ocean Region and that it will do anything at its disposal to thwart Beijing’s wry debt-diplomacy tactics.

Former President Mohammed Nasheed, who is now President Solih’s advisor was visibly elated by the developments and tweeted a heartfelt message to show his gratitude towards India. He also took a sly dig at China which had been bleeding the country dry with shark-loans.

Mohammed Nasheed tweeted, “The super low-cost development assistance announced by @DrSJaishankar today is exactly what the Maldives needs. Genuine help from a friend, to help us build critical infrastructure. Rather than eye-wateringly expensive commercial loans that leave the nation mired in debt. @PMModi.”

Abdullah Yameen and his torrential regime

India and Maldives used to enjoy very warm ties before the election of Abdullah Yameen who came to power in 2013. Since assuming the responsibilities of the state, he had shown a clear leaning towards China and allowed Chinese companies to build infrastructure in the country.

His policies included anti-western rhetoric and he openly supported Islamization of the Maldivian society, and as a result, India’s relations with the Maldives deteriorated significantly.

The following whimsical flow of money during Yameen’s tenure is enough to paint a picture that how bad China had clawed its tentacles deep inside the Maldivian bureaucracy.

China had invested mind-whooping 830 million dollars into the development of the island country’s airport. The massively inflated costs of the airport were later added to the bill of the Maldives which Mohamed Nashed had received in 2018.

Yameen had even signed off the highly controversial Free Trade Agreement with China which practically submerged the country in China’s debt.

Chinese exports to the Maldives account for more than 99% of the total trade between the two countries and yet, Yameen had gone ahead with the hara-kiri.

In 2018, former president Mohamed Nasheed said that China had handed over an invoice of 3.2 billion dollars–nothing more, nothing less, just a plain receipt of the amount.

Recently, owning to Maldives’ growing proximity to India, China’s Exim bank had asked the island country to repay 10 million dollar loans given to former president Yameen’s ally- Sun Ahmed Shyam.

The move was dubbed as extortion and blackmailing tactic by the political pundits as China is getting agitated that India is systematically challenging its hegemony in the archipelago.

According to a Forbes report, when Solih assumed the chair in 2018–the small tropical nation owed such gargantuan amount of debt to Beijing that it roughly amounted to 8,000 dollars for every inhabitant of Maldives.

Solih and Modi- The dawn of a new era

But, after Solih assumed power, the relations between the two countries have become much more robust. The Maldives had been eyeing a way out from the Chinese debt-trap, so, India under PM Modi as the considerate neighbour has swooped in and poured in the investments.

It was under Solih that the Maldives scrapped the Free Trade Agreement and sent a message to India that it wants to go back to the drawing board. The Greater Malé Connectivity Project was a key election promise of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih had personally sought India’s assistance for this project.

The fruition of this deal has become one of the final nails in the coffin for China and its horrendous debt-trap diplomacy.

India helping the Maldives, which had been at its lowest, has sent a message to the entire Indian subcontinent that New Delhi is willing to help them get out of the menace of Chinese debt-trap. All they need to do is extend the olive branch, just the way the Maldives under Solih did.

PM Modi and his foreign policy are well and truly in perfect sync with the national interest of the country. His detractors who continuously chirped that India was losing its hold over the neighbours have been served a gentle but cold reminder by Maldives’ thank you that India always prioritizes its neighbours.