China, Maldives sign preliminary accord on bridge construction

An aerial view of the Male airport.— Photo: Reuters

An aerial view of the Male airport.— Photo: Reuters  

China and Maldives — a major element of the Beijing-sponsored Maritime Silk Road project — have signed an accord to conduct preliminary study on constructing a bridge that would connect capital Male with the city’s international airport.

Xinhua is reporting that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for a pre-feasibility study of the project has been signed. This would be followed by a full-scale project feasibility study, yielding a design plan, which would result in the two sides exploring possible funding options for the project.

Deepening engagement

In September, Chinese President Xi Jinping said in Male that he hoped that the bridge would be named “China-Maldives Friendship Bridge.”

Analysts point out that the project underscores a deepening engagement between China and Maldives, which is a major cog in the establishment of the 21st century Maritime Silk Route visualised by China.

Though details are still sketchy, the Chinese hope to revive a maritime route that would start from its Fujian province, cross the Malacca Straits and transit through the Indian Ocean via India, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and Nairobi in Kenya.

It would finally cross the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal to terminate at Venice. Venice would also be end of the New Silk Route —a land corridor that would start in Xian in China and travel through Central Asia, before entering Europe.

India’s concerns

China’s Maritime Silk Route has raised concerns in India, which opposes the militarisation of the Indian Ocean. Speaking at a conference in Galle, Sri Lanka, on Monday, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval stressed during his keynote address that Indian Ocean must remain a zone of peace.

The Hindu had earlier reported that evoking a 1971 UNGA resolution on the Declaration of the Indian Ocean as a Zone of Peace, Mr. Doval said it was important to revisit the resolution mooted by Sri Lanka then “calling upon great powers not to allow escalation and expansion of military presence in the Indian Ocean.”

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