Two bridges and India & China’s pursuit to gain precedence in strategic Maldives
India and China have recently been engaged in conflicts swathing across regional issues in order to gain primacy over the other. The most strategically and geopolitically important one of them being relations with Maldives, smallest Asian island country located in the heart of Indian Ocean.
The China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, a 2.1-mile-long bridge connecting capital Male with the international airport, is built by Beijing funding of $200 million. This is one of the many Chinese projects in the tropical Asian island country and it didn’t settle well with India, which has always enjoyed friendly relations with Maldives. India has always viewed Maldives as an extension of its influence in region owing to shared culture and traditions. China expanding its base gave restlessness to New Delhi.
In an attempt to thwart the Chinese attempts, India announced its own project in the south Asian island which is famous for its white sand beaches and pristine turquoise lagoons. In August, India announced its own project of funding a $500 million bridge that will connect Male to three nearby islands. The 4.1-mile-long bridge will overshadow the China funded bridge in length, price and scale.
The neighbouring countries of India and China are both considered as emerging global powers with an important position at geopolitical stage. The recent race in infrastructure is just an example of long list of conflicts between the nations. This includes the recent escalation across the disputed borders in Himalayas, and the tension building up in Indian Ocean, a territory which is important to both.
Maldives lies in the crucial waters of Indian Ocean constituting over 1200 low lying coral islands and population of less than a million. Its location is across the important shipping lanes and waters. At least half of India’s trade and 80% of its energy imports transit across these waters near Maldives. China too has its at least 62% of its total imports, which is all of crude oil imports from Middle East, travel through the region. This makes Maldives gain great importance for India and China.
In 2013, when Abdullah Yameen became President of Maldives, he parted ways with India and grew closer to Beijing. This was until he lost 2018 elections, and this is when India gained opportunity to mend relations with its former ally. From 2013 to 2018, Maldives received millions of Chinese funds. Now as the country is under China’s debt of around $3 billion, India can get cozy with it again and sideline China. The ‘largest civilian infrastructure project’ in Maldives by India is targeted to achieve the same.
Under new Maldivian government, led by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the country is looking up to India, with the latter equally enthusiastic to repair ties with the former close ally. Since Solih came to power, India’s financial assistance to Maldives has crossed $2 billion. This is crucial for both as Maldives is increasingly in worry of its increasing Chinese debt.
Apart from the bridge, India has already commenced a number of projects in Maldives. These include cricket stadium and a hospital in Hulhumale, and water and sewerage projects on 34 islands. This is enough to shift China in its seat. The geopolitical standing is greatly influenced by the relations with Maldives, and New Delhi and Beijing are well aware of it.