Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Maldives President Abdulla Yameen at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in Hulhule on September 14, 2014. Photo: AFP/Haveru/Mohamed Sharuhaan

A general election will be held in the Maldives next month and, according to an August 20 report on Channel News Asia, a Singapore-based TV network, it will most probably cement the power of the Indian Ocean nation’s pro-Chinese president Abdulla Yameen.

The Maldives may be a small country with only about 420,000 people living on roughly 300 square kilometers of land, but it is strategically located close to India’s Lakshadsweep islands and the major US military base at Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory.

From 1978 to 2008, the Muslim republic was ruled by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, whose reign was characterized by authoritarian rule, corruption – and close ties with India. Indian paratroopers even rescued him during a coup attempt in 1988.

His successor, Mohammed Nasheed, was a young pro-democracy activist who was also close to India. But Nasheed was deposed in 2012 in civil unrest which amounted to a coup.

Yameen, who took over the presidency in 2013, began to steer the country close to China, which had not even had an embassy in the Maldives before he came to power.

With the help of Chinese money, the Maldives’ airport on a small island off the capital Male has been extended and a bridge connecting the airport and Male is under construction.

In December 2017, Beijing and Male signed a protocol to build a joint ocean observation station in Maldives, which China insists will not become a military base.

But with the Chinese navy now present in the Indian Ocean, and a pro-Beijing man in power in Maldives, the Indians and other Indian Ocean powers are deeply concerned about the implications of recent developments.

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