There is black magic in the Maldives

South asia : China's new debt diplomacy

For some residents of the Maldives, their dictatorial President Abdullah Yameen looked like a particularly evil Djinn. Like one of those ghosts against whom only black magic can help. Yameen arrested or exiled former presidents, opposition officials and chief judges. He has also practically sold entire atolls of the island paradise to Saudi Arabia and China with long-term contracts. Until recently, voodoo seemed the only way to get rid of this unloved power holder. But in the end it was a democratic election that overthrew him. Opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih surprisingly replaces him.

The change of power in the island paradise is good news for India - and bad news for China. The election winner has indicated that the relationship with China will be "re-examined".

Under Yameen, China declared the Maldives part of its “New Silk Road”, a global infrastructure project with which China wants to expand trade routes to Asia, Europe and Africa. Beijing signed a trade deal with the Maldives and invested $ 1.2 billion in the country, which is strategically located for oil transportation. Relations between India and the culturally related Maldives deteriorated. Malé is the only capital in the region that India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not yet visited. This could change now.

Multi-religious India is the religious big brother of the countries of South Asia. Nevertheless, China has succeeded in expanding its strategic and economic presence in the Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar with the “New Silk Road”. All of this is happening to the detriment of the regional power India.

Politics professor Brahma Chellaney said that one reason for China's growing economic influence in the region is its organization. "China has a single point of contact for project approvals, so Western democracies or even India cannot keep up," says the Indian China expert. Furthermore, China would not ask "awkward" questions about domestic affairs or refuse to invest on behalf of human rights abuses and labor rights issues.

China is building strategically important projects across the region

Sri Lanka is a good example of China's successful debt diplomacy in India's neighborhood. The island, located southwest of India, had China build a new seaport and expand the port of the capital Colombo. Because Sri Lanka was subsequently unable to service its debts, the country had to lease the port of Hambantota to China for 99 years. In return, Beijing canceled most of its debt. Like the Maldives, Sri Lanka is of great strategic importance in the Indian Ocean. China feels so at home there that it launched its submarines into the port of the capital twice - which caused great anger in New Delhi.

China is building strategically important projects throughout the region as part of the “New Silk Road”. In Myanmar, Beijing has built an 800-kilometer oil and gas pipeline, and a deep-water port is being planned. In Bangladesh, the Chinese are investing 14 billion dollars in coal-fired power plants, port facilities, bridges and telecommunications, with a further 13 billion dollars in prospect. In communist Nepal, China is building a railway through the Himalayan Mountains to connect the highlands of Tibet with Kathmandu. In fact, besides India, Nepal is the only other country with a Hindu majority. "Cultural relations or not - for developing countries, national interests come first," says Chellaney.

In northern India there has been a - from an Indian perspective unholy - military alliance between its archenemy Pakistan and China for decades. India is also protesting the Sino-Pakistani economic corridor because it goes through Kashmir, which India and Pakistan claim. Pakistan's new prime minister, Imran Khan, is all the more determined to allow this connection road to continue to be built despite high debt.

But in the meantime, China's urge to expand is also encountering difficulties "Until 2017, China enjoyed undisputed freedom of action along its Silk Road, but that is different today," says political expert Chellaney. "From Europe to Japan there is sharp criticism of China's motives." India these concerns should come in handy.

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