Maldives is set to endorse the 21st century Maritime Silk Route (MSR), a pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping, signaling Male’s growing ties with Beijing.
The Maldivian daily Minivan News is reporting that Maldives would formally support the MSR-- which visualises development of a sea route from China’s Fujian province to the Mediterranean Sea via South Asia and East Africa--during the first meeting in the Chinese capital of the China-Maldives joint commission on economy and trade.
The daily quoted Fisheries and Agriculture Minister, Mohamed Shainee as saying that talks would also be held with two Chinese companies on oil exploration, which would be open to neighbouring countries as well.
India has already offered to assist in oil exploration within Maldivian territorial waters, the newspaper reported.
Without specifically naming India, former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed has criticised his country’s decision to join the Silk Route initiative, pointing out that it would draw Male into disputes between Asian powers, and threaten security of the Indian Ocean.
The MSR is said to pass through Maldives’ northernmost Atoll, which is also the proposed site of the Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project. The Maldivian government wants to take advantage its geographical location, especially the seven degree channel, the conduit for the annual transit of goods worth $ 18 trillion, by setting up a transshipment port in that area.
China has signed a deal for the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), after India’s GMR had its contract unilaterally terminated in 2012. An agreement has also been signed for the Male-Hulhule bridge, and the visiting delegation would want the project to be expedited.
The development of the runway at INIA, is in focus and consultants from Singapore’s Changi International Airport have been drafted supervise the development. Maldives also wants to draw on the Chinese experience in developing free trade areas.
Maldives has publicly announced its foreign policy shift towards the “East.” President Abdulla Yameen announced on November 11 that compared to “Western colonial powers,” economic cooperation with China does not challenge Maldives’ Islamic identity.