China’s state media on Saturday said India’s apprehensions that Beijing could establish a military base in the Maldives were groundless, after Male approved a law to allow foreigners to buy land in the country.
People’s Daily , the official newspaper, ran a report which quoted a senior military officer as saying that China did not own any military base abroad, nor did it seek military expansion. These remarks were in tune with China’s military White Paper presented in May.
The write-up pointed out that President Abdulla Yameen of the Maldives dismissed concerns about possible foreign military expansion, assuring India and other neighbours that his government would keep the Indian Ocean a demilitarised zone.
In an exclusive interview to The Hindu that appeared on Friday, Maldivian Vice-President Ahmed Adeeb said: “We don’t want to give any of our neighbours, including India, any cause for concern. We don’t want to be in a position when we become a threat to our neighbours.”‘No to strategic projects’
Mr. Adeeb rejected the Maldivian Opposition’s concerns about the militarisation of the islands. “We are looking at projects like Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands or Dubai’s Palm Islands. We are not looking at strategic projects.”
The commentary in People’s Daily quoted Fu Xiaoqiang, of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, as saying that Chinese investors and construction companies might benefit from the amendment, given China’s advanced technology in land reclamation. He stressed that the Indian media had long questioned China’s presence in the Indian Ocean. “They have to get used to it, as it will become normal with more and more Chinese enterprises going abroad,” he said.
Analysts point out that some of anxieties about China’s military intentions have been fuelled by a belief in the ‘String of Pearls’ theory about Beijing’s plan to establish electronic eavesdropping posts in countries in the Indian Ocean, including Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Countering this perception, Zhou Bo, an Honorary Fellow at the PLA Academy of Military Science, pointed out in an article that U.S. defence contractor Booz Allen Hamilton had first used the phrase in a 2005 report to the then Defence Secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld. He had alleged that China was adopting a “String of Pearls” strategy of bases stretching from West Asia to southern China. But contrary to the fears about China’s maritime expansion, the facts on the ground point elsewhere. “These ‘bases’ are found nowhere in the Indian Ocean. The most telling evidence is that the PLA Navy has been conducting counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden for five years without any base of its own,” he said.
Mr. Zhou said: “Access, rather than bases, is what the Chinese Navy is really interested in the Indian Ocean. The unchartered waters of the Indian Ocean could be friendlier than the disputed waters of the Pacific. In the Pacific Ocean, China has territorial disputes with a number of countries, but this is not the case in the Indian Ocean.”