Maldives' new legislation weighs in favor of China
The Maldivian constitutional amendment is being seen as an attempt to build closer economic and strategic ties with China. The new law welcoming China to increase its influence over Male, poses a strategic challenge for India. India's influence on this island nation appears to be waning especially after PM Modi gave Maldives a miss on his tour of the Indian ocean countries.
Maldives is an island nation located south of India's Lakshadweep islands in the Indian ocean. Maldives and India established diplomatic relations after the independence of Maldives from the British in 1966. They developed close economic, strategic, military and cultural relations ever since. Both are founding members of SAARC, the South Asian Economic Union and signatories to the South Asia Free Trade Agreement.
The recent issue involving arrest of former Maldives president Mohammed Nasheed in February 2015, on charges of terror, changed the dynamic between India and Maldives. Though India expressed concerns over 'manhandling' of Nasheed, a more hands-on response was expected. China declined to react and said that it was an internal affair of Maldives and the government was capable to deal with its 'domestic' issue.
In Sep 2014, Maldives awarded the airport contract it terminated (in 2012) with India's GMR, to Chinese firm during China's president Xi Jinping's trip to the country. Further, Maldives recently joined China's two major strategic projects - the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). India is wary of the BRI project which proposes to pass through Pakistan occupied Kashmir.
Belt and Road Initiative, a brainchild of Chinese President Xi Jinping to firm-up China's strategic influence, consists of two components - the land-based "Silk Road Economic Belt" (SREB) and oceangoing "Maritime Silk Road" (MSR).
The Maldives parliament - Majlis amended the constitution to authorize foreign ownership of land or freeholds in the country, with 70 out of the Majlis's 85 members voting in favor. The amendments will allow foreigners who invest more than US$1 billion to purchase land within the project site. The Constitution previously allowed only leasing of the land for up to 99 years.
Some of the members who opposed the move to amend the Constitution expressed concern over possible Chinese military expansion in Maldives. There was also concern over the lack of time to review the amendments since they were passed just after a day after their introduction in the Parliament. They were fearful of Maldives being dragged into a tug of war between India and China.