Accessibility links

New Law Aims to Keep Maldives a 'Demilitarized Zone'

Indian leader Narendra Modi (L) shakes hands with Maldivian leader Abdulla Yameen in New Delhi last year.

Indian leader Narendra Modi (L) shakes hands with Maldivian leader Abdulla Yameen in New Delhi last year.

The Indian Ocean island nation of the Maldives has told India it will not permit China to set up military bases on its territory. However, that is unlikely to ease concerns that China will consolidate its position in the Indian Ocean.

The president of the Maldives, Abdulla Yameen, said the country will remain, what he called, a “demilitarized zone.” Mr. Yameen made the statement in a letter to Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Mr. Swaraj visited the Maldives last week to express concern about a new law. The legislation permits foreigners to own land in the country if they invest $1 billion there. They also must reclaim 70 percent of the land from the sea.

India fears this law will clear the way for China to establish its military presence in the Maldives. The country is made up of about 1,200 islands south of India. It is close to major shipping routes in the Indian Ocean.

However, the Maldivian government says the law is meant to appeal to foreign investors to establish special economic zones. The government compares this to development models in countries like Dubai. It says this will give the country an economic boost and reduce its dependence on tourism.

China is a major investor in the Maldives. It has built housing projects, roads and an important bridge. Last year, the Maldives cancelled a deal with India and gave a Chinese company a project to improve the Male airport. Chinese are also the main foreign visitors to the islands.

Experts say the new Maldivian law will make it harder for India to limit growing Chinese influence in Indian Ocean countries.

India considers the Indian Ocean an area of strategic importance. Darshana Baruah, an expert at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, says India will have to deal with the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean.

“We already have tensions along our land border with China in north and opening up possibilities for China to make, kind of place, a permanent position within our maritime border is making India a bit nervous. Tomorrow, if China has so much of economic interest and investments in the Indian Ocean, they will have all right to kind of protect that commercial interest.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to visit the Maldives soon in an effort to increase India’s strategic influence in the country.

I’m ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Mario Ritter.

Anjana Pastricha reported this story from New Delhi. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

Words in This Story

consolidate v. to join or combine into one thing

zone n. an area used for a specific purpose

route n. a way or path

strategic adj. concerning a general plan created to reach goals in politics, war, etc. over a period of time