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World View: Maldives Crisis Pits India vs China in the Indian Ocean

The Associated Press

This morning’s key headlines from

  • Maldives president arrests Supreme Court justices to get favorable court ruling
  • Maldives crisis pits India vs China in the Indian Ocean

Maldives president arrests Supreme Court justices to get favorable court ruling

Map showing strategic location of Maldives and Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean
Map showing strategic location of Maldives and Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean

India is debating whether it will be necessary to intervene militarily in the Maldives, as the government appears to be getting increasingly unstable.

Maldives is an archipelago of around 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of India, with enormous strategic significance because of its proximity to international sea lanes through which two-thirds of the world’s oil and half its container shipments pass.

Maldives has had one presidential crisis after another for years, but the current crisis began most acutely in March 2015, when president Abdulla Yameen jailed Mohamed Nasheed, a former president who had been the only democratically elected president in the country’s history. Nasheed and a dozen supporters were jailed on “terrorism” charges, which Nasheed said were politically motivated.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail, but in 2016 he was permitted to go the UK for emergency medical treatment. While in the UK, he was granted asylum, and he has lived there in exile.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that the 2015 convictions were unconstitutional and that all of Nasheed’s supporters should be released from jail.

In response, Yameen ordered the police to arrest two of the Supreme Court justices. The remaining three judges then reversed the previous order to free Nasheed’s supporters, and so they remain in jail. Yameen has ordered a 15-day state of emergency and imposed martial law, giving him and the police unlimited authority to arrest anyone without charging them.

The biggest industry in the Maldives is tourism, and this is the height of the tourist season. The US, the UK, India, and China are all advising citizens not to travel to the Maldives for fear that the political chaos could turn into street violence.

Nasheed, still in exile, is calling on India to intervene militarily. India did intervene militarily in 1998, when Maldives was under attack from Sri Lankan Tamil militants. Today, India is keeping its navy on alert and continuing patrols around the Maldives islands, but there are no plans now to intervene. Al-Jazeera and New Delhi TV and BBC and Daily Telegraph (Australia) and AP

Maldives crisis pits India vs China in the Indian Ocean

When Mohamed Nasheed was president, Maldives had a close relationship with the UK and India. However, president Yameen has distanced himself from the UK and India and is developing close relationships with China, much to the distress of India.

Under Yameen, Maldives has also developed close relations with Saudi Arabia. In June 2017, Maldives joined in the blockade by Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, and Bahrain against Qatar.

For decades, India has considered both Maldives and Sri Lanka to be part of its major sphere of influence. But China has invaded both countries with infrastructure projects, gaining influence at India’s expense. China has recently taken control of Sri Lanka’s southern Hambantota seaport.

India was shocked on December 8 when China and Maldives signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). This brings Maldives into China’s Maritime Silk Road, a component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Other agreements provided for cooperation in health, tourism, technology, and climate change. When combined with China’s control of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota seaport, this gives China considerable control over the sea lanes in the India Ocean. The Diplomat and First Post (India) and Nikkei Asian Review and The Diplomat (21-Apr-2017)

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Maldives, Abdulla Yameen, Mohamed Nasheed, India, China, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Belt and Road Initiative, BRI, Maritime Silk Road, Sri Lanka, Hambantota seaport
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