India need not worry about Chinese military expansion under the Maldives’ new policy that allows foreigners to buy its land, observers say, after the Maldives government said the law will not affect India’s strategic interests.

President Abdullah Yameen Abdul Qayyoom  says the land ownership law will not pose any threat to peace in the Indian Ocean
President Abdullah Yameen Abdul Qayyoom told media that the land ownership law will not pose any threat to peace in the Indian Ocean

“Our sovereignty is not on offer,” the new Maldivian Vice President Ahmed Adeeb told The Hindu  in an interview on Thursday, adding, “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.”

He blamed the opposition parties in the Maldives for stoking fears over the move.

“The opposition wants to say they (China) will come and run military bases, but that is not the reality. We are looking at projects like Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands or Dubai’s Palm islands. We are not looking at strategic projects,” he told the paper.

The Maldives ratified a legislation on Thursday to allow foreigners with investment of more than $1 billion to own land within a specified site, on condition that at least 70 percent of the area they develop is reclaimed from the sea.

The Indian Express newspaper said the new land law in Maldives has set alarm bells ringing in New Delhi adding that officials there are “concerned” that the amendments will enable China to buy islands and build strategic assets in the Indian Ocean nation. The Maldivian embassy in Beijing did not comment on the report on Friday, according to People’s Daily.

A senior Chinese military officer said in May, when China issued a military strategy whitepaper, that China did neither own any military bases abroad nor seek military expansion.

Laamu Atoll is an administrative division of the Maldives
Maldivian opposition parties allege that the new land law is designed to turn part of the Laamu Atoll  into a military base for China

Earlier, in January, opposition parties in the Maldives alleged that the government was planning to award parts of south central Laamu Atoll to China for a military base. The Chinese embassy dismissed the allegations at the time as “completely false”.

“As the Maldivian government has insisted it won’t militarize the region, there is no need to be so sensitive about the news and immediately target China,” said Hu Shisheng, director of the Institute of South and Southeast Asian and Oceanian Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

“In my view, aside from diversifying the economy, the new policy can also bind the interests of foreign investors with that of the Maldives, which faces great challenges brought by climate change.”

“There is no need for the Maldives to militarize the region,” he added.

Fu Xiaoqiang, an expert on South Asian studies at the institute, said Chinese investors and construction companies might benefit from the amendment, given China’s advanced technology in land reclamation. China is also the largest source of visitors to the Maldives.

“But that is about business,” Fu said. “There is nothing wrong with countries developing their economy in a legal way.”

He said Indian media have 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,” Fu said.

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