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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The price of Dr Muizzu’s lust for China will be borne by the people of Maldives

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Dr Mohammed Muizzu is not a political leader in love with the people of Maldives. He is a closeted Islamic radical who is cunningly allowing extremism to ground itself into the Maldivian society and turn the tourism haven into a terror haven which will eventually turn this beautiful island nation into a graveyard.

I fear in the months ahead, a potent cocktail of drugs, violent gangs, and the rampant proliferation of terror operatives in the Maldives coupled with an inevitable economic slump owing to its rising China debt is going to turn this Island nation into a financial destitute country and its people grappling with poverty and an uncertain future. While this is happening, Dr. Muizzu and his close confidantes in the Maldivian government will be eating some gourmet Chinese noodles in a different country with their bank balances having a northward climb.

Dr. Muizzu is an arrogant political leader and his character traits border on dictatorial behavior but more than that he is insipid when it comes to political acumen of a geopolitical nature. He and some government ministers reacted to a social media post comparing the potential of Lakshadweep islands against the Maldives and targeted India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Of course and rightfully so, the people of India took to social media and started an online war with the Maldivian government, this was followed by an offline war with travel companies and Indian tourists canceling Maldives from their tourism itinerary. While sane people in the Maldives and around the world understood the folly of Dr. Muizzu and some members of his government, Dr. Muizzu remained unfazed and rather supercilious. Though the Maldivian government in a damage-control mode suspended the three ministers with a wagging tongue of inanities, the damage was already done.

Around the same time as the relationship between India and Maldives was reaching a point of far-reaching strains, Dr. Muizzu instead of working to repair strained friendships with India decided to act out his role as a vassal in front of China. Most surprisingly, after his trip to Beijing, Dr. Muizzu came back to Maldives and started to utter childlike gibberishes against India in an attempt to show the world that he has now got China on his side to deal with India. His behavior was unbecoming of the President of a nation, it was akin to a child sucking up to a senior in school in the hope that he would not get bullied by other children in his class. Unfortunately, for the people of Maldives, they will now have to pay the price for Dr. Muizzu’s lust for China.

On February 7th, the IMF cautioned that the Maldives faces a significant risk of ‘debt distress’ due to heavy borrowing from China and advised that there was an imminent need for an ‘urgent policy adjustment’. Dr. Muizzu like the jailed former Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen, who put him at the forefront of the Presidential race, does not possess the foresight or the acuity to learn from recent mistakes made by Nepal and Sri Lanka. China’s brute approach to neighborhood relationships is a contrast to India’s approach of development-led lending to partner nations.

Maldivian Finance Ministry data reveals that the nation started its slow slip into a Chinese debt trap from 2014 to 2019. To fund the construction of 11,000 apartments in high-rise blocks on Hulhumale island, Chinese state companies lent $547.9 million. They further lent $180.9 million for work to extend the electricity grid to the new island and $421 million to expand the airport serving Male and Hulhumale. China government grant led to the funding of the $210 million Friendship Bridge project with $126 million and a $68 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of China.

Over the last five years, unconfirmed reports indicate that the debt trap has gone up to $3.1 billion which is 63 percent of the GDP of Maldives. However, Maldivian officials opine that Male owes Beijing only around $1.4 billion, which even at official figures is a sticky wicket especially when the total GDP of the country is estimated to be $4.9 billion. Maldivian government faces a complex problem of a lack of transparency in its accounting practices because of its large-scale and uncontrolled corruption. Loans given to the Maldivian government were in the form of government-to-government loans, money lent to state enterprises, and loans from the private sector guaranteed by the Maldivian ruling regime then and now.

Dr. Muizzu is following in the footsteps of Abdulla Yameen. During his tenure, Yameen as the President of Maldives brought in a controversial land acquisition law in 2015 which allowed foreigners to own land in the island nation if they invested more than $1 billion and reclaimed 70% of it from the sea. The law was eventually repealed in 2019, and Chinese infrastructure developers a front for the Chinese government took control of 17 islands through a lease until 2066. One of the islands leased is the Feydhoo Finolhu Island. It was leased for $4 million. It is alarming to note that the island has increased in size from 38,000 sqm. to 100,000 sqm. In 2020, the facelift of the Feydhoo Finolhu Islands exposed the potential threat to India with China turning this island into a military base. China officially denied these allegations but it fits perfectly into China’s strategy popularly known as the ‘The String of Pearls’ – which refers to the dragon’s intention to build a network in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Ahmed Naseem, former Foreign Minister of Maldives had warned as far back as in April 2016 of indications that Maldives was looking to let the Chinese build a port at Gaadhoo island in the southern atoll.

It is not surprising that China will the world that they are investing in developing tourism in Feydhoo Finolhu Islands and Gaadhoo Islands and deny the fact that it aims to turn them into a naval base co-opting Maldivian Coast Guards. It will start with tourism, infrastructure, and then supply, berthing, and maintenance of a base for China in the Maldives.

Last month, a Chinese surveillance ship Xiang Yang Hong 3 was doing the rounds in the Indian Ocean and even docked at Male on February 5, this month. The Maldivian government told the media that it received a request from the Chinese government for an Operational Turn Round (OTR) to pick up food and supplies. Sri Lanka refused to allow the Chinese surveillance ship to dock at its port. This is not the first time that a Chinese spy vessel is doing the rounds of the Indian Ocean Region.

China already has access to outposts in Myanmar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. It also maintains an intelligence unit base at Coco Islands near the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. But China does not have an outpost in the Indian Ocean and that’s where Maldives comes in. China needs the Maldives to complete its strategy to surround India from all sides in the Indian Ocean after the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka, Gwadar Port in Pakistan, and Kyaukpyu Port in Myanmar.

As part of its ‘Strings of Pearls’ strategy China in the Indian Ocean Region has over the last couple of years secured 18 outposts in strategic locations tactically with an investment of over $25Bn – Port of Sudan, Massawa New Port, Dolareh Multipurpose Port, Tadjourah Port, Mombassa Port, Zanzibar New Port, Dar Es Salaam Port, Lamu Port, Beira City Fishing Port, Tamatave Port, Techobanine Port, Port of Durban, Richards Bay Port, Chittagong Port, Karachi Deepwater Terminal, Colombo Port Terminal, Payra Port and Bagamoya Port.

Dr. Muizzu is toeing the line of China’s expansionist plan in the Indian Ocean. Like I said, he is not in love with the people of Maldives, he is in love with the idea of being the President of Maldives and taking forward Yameen’s for Maldives with China. Dr. Muizzu knows that as the President of Maldives being close to China is a wealthy proposition personally to him for the period he remains as President, so why not make hay while the sun shines, after all China backed Dr. Muizzu to strategically move into a position of power and eventual servitude.

 

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