China rebuked former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed Thursday for saying it is on a land grab in the troubled archipelago, calling his claims nonsense.
Nasheed last month told reporters the Asian giant was on a shopping spree in the Maldives.
“A large, emerging power is busy buying up the Maldives,” he said. “Buying up our islands, buying up our key infrastructure, and effectively buying up our sovereignty. This land grab is very worrying.”
Regional tensions are threatening to escalate over a state of emergency in the Maldives. Nasheed has pleaded with China’s regional rival India for military assistance to resolve the crisis and he repeated the land grab claims in an Indian newspaper on Wednesday, prompting the rebuke.
“These allegations are absolutely nonsense,” said foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a regular press briefing. “When Mr. Nasheed was the president, China also offered assistance and conducted practical cooperation with his country, which led to enormous outcomes. Would Mr. Nasheed call that “grab” as well?
“China offers its assistance to the Maldives with no political strings attached. There is no way that such assistance will impair Maldives’ sovereignty and independence, not to mention undermining the security of the Indian Ocean region.”
Nasheed has argued the land grab is happening because of a Free Trade Agreement between China and the Maldives, Special Economic Zones and an amendment to the constitution authorising foreign ownership of land or freeholds, he said.
The constitution previously prohibited foreign ownership of any part of Maldivian territory but was changed in 2015. In July that year the party led by Nasheed issued a free whip on an amendment to allow foreign freeholds.
The free trade deal and the vast sums that China is lending the Maldives have bound the two countries closer together but, despite the stronger ties, China has been unequivocal in warning its citizens over travelling there.
“We have learnt that the National Tourism Administration of China also issued travel alert, asking domestic travel agencies to suspend organizing group trips,” said the foreign ministry spokesman. “All the Chinese citizens are strongly advised to heed these warnings, and when planning outbound trips during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) pay close attention to travel safety risks.”
The country was plunged into chaos when President Abdulla Yameen ignored a Supreme Court verdict ordering the release of nine prisoners. Instead he cracked down on his opponents, throwing a former president and two top judges into prison and suspending around 20 constitutional rights.