Abdulla Yameen, the pro-China president of the Maldives, conceded electoral defeat today (September 24) to opposition leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, widely viewed as an ally of India.
Solih won a resounding 58.3% of the popular vote, but a delighted New Delhi could not wait until the final tally was announced to heap diplomatic praise on the democratic result.
“We welcome the successful completion of the third Presidential election”, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement when only preliminary results were known. “We heartily congratulate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on his victory.”
Beijing has not yet reacted to the outcome of an election that was widely viewed as a proxy battle for which side the small island republic will take in the two Asian giants’ battle for influence in a strategically important part of the Indian Ocean.
To be sure, China and the Maldives’ friendly relations predated Yameen’s rise to power in 2013. But it was during his presidency — and much to the chagrin of the country’s traditional ally India — that much closer ties were developed.
In September 2014, China’s president Xi Jinping visited the Maldives and a deal was struck with a Chinese firm to upgrade its international airport, which is located on Hulhule, a separate island near the capital Male.
China also undertook to build a 1.4-kilometer bridge linking Hulhule with Male which was completed on August 30 this year and then inaugurated by Yameen. In December 2014, only two months after Xi’s visit, the Maldives signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Beijing in support of Xi’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), one of the first countries worldwide to do so.
The airport extension, island-linking bridge and other infrastructural projects were all part of the BRI plan. In 2017, 300,000 Chinese tourists arrived in Maldives, more than from any other global country. By any measure, China-Maldivian economic relations boomed under Yameen.
They were also coming together strategically. Earlier this year China and the Maldives announced plans to build a Joint Ocean Observation Station in Makunudhoo, the westernmost atoll in the north.
A writer for The Times of India wrote at the time that the proposed facility would “allow the Chinese a vantage point of an important Indian Ocean shipping route…[and] effectively open a Chinese maritime front against India.”
Whether that is the case — or if the Chinese are simply interested in keeping a close eye on vital shipping lines, including those that transport its oil imports from the Middle East — is open to speculation.
But the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), part of the alliance that supported Solih at the recent election, suggested at the time that it could be used for military purposes. It was a strategic red line that India did not want China to cross, but what India could do to prevent it from happening was never made clear by Indian security officials and analysts.
The Maldives is a tiny country in terms of area and population — only 417,000 people live on its 298 square kilometers of land — but its more than 1,000 coral islands and atolls cover a huge maritime area stretching 750 kilometers from the north to the south.
Because of its proximity to India, New Delhi has always considered it to be within its regional sphere of influence. That’s been seen in past Indian interventions to quell unrest in the archipelago.
In November 1988, for instance, India’s then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi sent 1,600 soldiers to aid the Maldivian government after a group of Tamil Tiger militants from Sri Lanka landed on the islands and attempted to overthrow the government, presumably to establish a rebel base.
For three decades — from 1978 to 2008 — the Maldives was under the authoritarian rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who incidentally is Yameen’s half-brother. The country developed its world-famous tourism industry during Gayoom’s tenure, boosting living standards across the republic.
But it was also a time marked by rampant corruption. In 2008, to the surprise of many, Gayoom was defeated in the country’s first truly democratic election, paving the way for Mohamed Nasheed, a youthful former political prisoner, to take power.
He opened a new, more democratic chapter in the country’s political history and retained the country’s close relations with India. But Nasheed was forced to resign under controversial circumstances in 2012, and was imprisoned once again in 2015 while Yameen was in power.
The circumstances surrounding Nasheed’s arrest were described by rights group Amnesty International as “politically motivated” and also condemned by the US State Department.
In 2016, he was allowed to leave for Britain, where he was granted asylum. In February this year, during a political crisis at home triggered by Yameen’s refusal to release political dissidents, Nasheed appealed to India and the US to intervene. He even asked India to send an official “with enough clout” to go there “backed by the military.”
Nasheed, perhaps to garner sympathy from India and the West, leveraged the crisis to accuse China, which made significant inroads into the Maldives after his fall from power, of grabbing land on islands in moves that could have military applications.
The Chinese embassy in Male refuted those claims, saying that such statements “undermined the security of the region” and “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.”
The state-run Chinese tabloid Global Times ran a story on February 13 stating that “China will stop Indian military action in the Maldives” — without saying exactly how — and that there was no “righteous cause” for armed intervention without United Nations backing.
India did not intervene militarily in the February crisis, waiting instead for elections to be held.
When the result was announced, Nasheed, who has spent most of his time in exile in Sri Lanka, spoke to a group of journalists in Colombo urging the Sri Lankan government to “engage more robustly in the process” of ensuring a smooth transfer of power to the new president-elect.
Nasheed still serves as the chairman of the MDP, which together with three other political groupings chose Solih to stand against Yameen in the election. The actual transfer of presidential power will not take place until November, and it is unclear what may happen in the interim in light of the high strategic stakes.
India, which was effectively sidelined under Yameen, will surely do what it can to back up the new president’s claim to power through a peaceful and stable transition. How China will react to Solih’s election and its likely loss of influence in an island nation that has become strategically important to its rising regional interests remains to be seen.
They said the same thing about Sri Lanka 3 years ago.
Money does a lot of things. Even Google, Apple, etc. can’t resisit China’s money. India must decide how much it would and can spend in Maldives in order to keep China away.
China will say it respects the will of the Maldive people and is willing to work with the new government on the basis of blah, blah, blah, and Solih will state the government will be willing to work with China to blah, blah, blah.
Well …make THEM truly Indians….and in a few years it will be just like India …with Every Thing in and on the streets !!!
Winnie Xi looks abit tubby again, too much honey ?
Larger sausages than chinee
The ultimate looser is Maldive. Both are evil empire for independent Maldives.
It will another Indian State.
I was waiting for the likes of Bertil Lintner and Gordon Watts to come out with articles crowing victory over China. Then they will fall silent as in similar countries, the new government dithers with a "new" policy and find they have no money and India, US or EU doesnt have any either to spare for them unless on tough terms. Then they turn back to China.
Yashad Rizvi I am worried about your obsession about big dicks. Thats usually a sign of insecurity over one’s own dimensions. Perhaps you should seek some help?
and here I thought the winner is Maldives people. I doubt when the Maldives people went to the ballots, they were thinking about what was good for India before choosing their candidates. Oh well, whatever make you feel good.
Btw, didn’t the west said that the former president is an autocratic that will not play fair? why did he lose then?
I don’t like India specially modi, I’m from maldives ????????
KS Chin Rizvi is trying hard to get the leftover crumbs from sucking hard on his white masters. Just earning a living as an obedient dog. Let him be. He finds peace there.
It is only a matter of time before china takes over the Indian Ocean by constructing artificial islands as in the South China Sea. India should do the same.
maybe india should build road first in the indian mainland before having a wet dream about building an island. Your country’s infrastructure is in bad shape.
and why would you like india? the nation that has interfered with your country’s politics, ignoring your sovereignty, and treating you like little brother.
poison they called bollywood
Let’s watch now China win the heart and mind of the new administration over India…
oink oink.. ching chong with a small d1ng dong still attacking India & west..
first fix public shitting in slums outside shanghai and fix the worlds worst air polluted cities and then come to lecture others
lol.. is that going to take 60 years.. China still not winning hearts and minds in Tibet
apparently other people of your country do
Alex Wijaya India builds more roads every year than in your entire country..
stop visiting china.
all that air pollution is blocking oxygen to your head
yes and 70% maldivian debt to China is on "good terms" ?
pleasseeee.. chinese contractors are crooks out to make a profit by hook or crook.
KS Chin I didnt think Chinese had chins, they seem to have recessive jaws.
Living in London, kissing backside of gweilo.
Chinee have too small wing/wangs for lape.
Yes. So next time when you buy something made in China, remember Chinese have to pay a price for that and appreciate it.
At least, contract is still better than unfair treaty or bombs.
they like bollywood like drug addicts like their opium. I myself stay away from that poison. That being said, even though they like their opium, doesn’t mean they love their drug dealer.
apparently you inhale that air pollution more then me, since 15 out of 20 most polluted cities in the world are located in India.
Yashad Rizvi You are fishing there. Assuming I am staying in a qweilo country. Nice try. Unlike you I live in a country where almost everyone have black hair and I dont have to be a model citizen for my race and I dont have to smile when white people come up to say "You speak good English" and I say "So do you". hahahah
or myanmar, or zambia, or zimbabwe, the list can go on, but you’re right. The west deluded themselves into a black and white world.
Hope you understand my friends 🙂
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