There are growing fears and reasons for alarm in India, that China might soon launch another island reclamation project in the Indian Ocean.

The reasons for alarm stem from a constitutional amendment passed by the small archipelagic nation of Maldives last week, which surprisingly for the first time permits and allowing foreign ownership of Maldives territory. In particular, the constitutional amendment allows foreigners who invest over $1 billion to own land, provided that at least 70 percent of the land is reclaimed from the sea.

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Since July 2013, China has dispatched a huge reclamation project in the South China Sea that has made 2,000 acres of man-made artificial land in five Spratly island stations. Practically 75 percent of this been dredged for the current year alone.

Anonymous Indian authorities have told local media outlets that they are “concerned” that China now wants to do the same in a portion of the Maldives’ 1,200 islands, which are found deliberately and are located strategically in the Indian Ocean.

They are not the only one: domestic adversaries of the amendment have expressed similar concerns. For example, Eva Abdullah, one of only 14 parliamentarians to vote against the amendment, told The Diplomat “this will make the nation a Chinese colony.”

She explained by saying, “what I fear is that we are paving the way for the establishment of Chinese bases in the Maldives and making the country a frontline state between India and China, in this manner aggravating the momentum offset of force in the Indian Ocean. We can’t overlook the expanding competition and rivalry between India and China.”

Maldivian and Chinese authorities have tried to temper such reasons for alarm, on the other hand. In an announcement given to Reuters, China’s Foreign Ministry said that Beijing “has always respected and supported the Maldives’ efforts to maintain its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity.”

The statement included that “what the relevant people said in regards to China building bases in the Maldives is absolutely ridiculous.” China has guaranteed that it will never fabricate nor build oversea military installations.

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The Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier Viraat is reaching the end of its service

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen has also released reasons for alarm that China will reclaim the islands and use them for military purposes.

In a public address, Yameen said, “The Maldivian government has given assurances to the Indian government and our neighboring nations too to keep the Indian Ocean a neutral ground or keep it as a demilitarized zone.”

Vice President Ahmed Adeeb echoed Yameen in a meeting with the Hindu this week, saying, “Our sovereignty is not on offer…We would prefer not to give any of our neighbors, including India..any reason for concern. We would prefer not to be in a position when we turn into a risk to our neighbors.”

While the Indian government seems to have formally acknowledged Maldives’ assurances, others are more suspicious.

By: Kevin N

 

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