A visiting deputy commander of the Chinese navy held discussions Monday with the chief of defence forces on strengthening Sino-Maldives defence and security cooperation.
Vice Admiral Tiang Zhong met with Defence Minister Adam Shareef Umar, Chief of Defence Forces Major General Ahmed Shiyam and senior military officers to discuss boosting cooperation and developing the Maldivian military’s human resources, according to the Maldives National Defence Force.
Zhong arrived on Sunday with a seven-member delegation.
The admiral’s visit follows the signing of a defence action plan between the Maldives and India during President Abdulla Yameen’s official visit to New Delhi earlier this month.
Neither country has disclosed details of the deal, but Indian media reports suggested it is aimed at countering growing Chinese influence in the Maldives.
China has played an instrumental role in facilitating the realization of Yameen’s campaign pledge to construct a bridge between Hulhulé and Malé – a project estimated to cost over US$200 million dollars. China is also providing technical and financial assistance in the development of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has periodically raised fears of Chinese military expansion in the Maldives, with the former President Mohamed Nasheed alleging in early 2015 that the Maldives was to hand over large parts of the southern atoll to China for a military base on a 99-year lease, in exchange for US$2billion, a claim the Chinese embassy promptly dismissed as “completely false.”
The MDP raised the same concern in the wake of a constitutional amendment that authorised foreign freeholds in the Maldives for the first time. The amendment was passed with the support of some opposition MPs.
Former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem told Indian media earlier this month that the Maldives was looking to China to build a port on the island of Gaadhoo in southern Laamu Atoll. Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muizz has denied the claim.
Yameen visit to India earlier this month was aimed at seeking Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s protection against “punitive action” by the Commonwealth over human rights abuses, including Nasheed’s imprisonment last March.
India is “the most important friend of the Maldives,” Yameen declared, adding: “The Maldives and India share common perspectives on peace, and stability in the South Asia and Indian Ocean region. That is why the Maldives pursues an India First foreign policy. The security of the Maldives is intimately linked with the security of India.”
India sits on the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, a watchdog body of foreign ministers that monitors member states’ adherence to democratic principles.
Despite Yameen’s lobbying effort, the CMAG reiterated its call for political dialogue and release of jailed politicians last week.
Subsequently, the president slammed persisting international concern, saying countries that call for action against the Maldives “are no friends of the Maldives.”