Tag Archives: Mauritius

The Scramble for Maldives: US/India v. China

The Maldives archipelago, popular among luxury honeymooners, has become a playing field for geostrategic rivalry as China expands its influence in the Indian Ocean and the U.S. and India push back.

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who has steadily swung his country toward Beijing and away from traditional partner New Delhi, has imposed a state of emergency, jailed opponents and clamped down on protests to weaken his opposition, which is led by pro-India ex-President Mohamed Nasheed.

India and the U.S. don’t want Beijing, already dominant in the South China Sea, to entrench itself in these waters. The island nation sits astride shipping lanes that connect China to the oil-supplying countries of the Middle East, via the Strait of Malacca. The location also makes the Maldives vital to Beijing’s Belt and Road plan to develop land and sea trading routes linking China to Europe.

Chinese President Xi Jinping won Mr. Gayoom’s support for the project’s maritime corridor on a visit to the Maldives in 2014, and China began investing in island infrastructure. A Chinese bridge now under construction will connect the capital city, Malé, to a nearby island where its airport is located. A Chinese company is expanding the airport; another has leased an island close by for development. Chinese contractors are building roads and housing units for locals.

Many in the Maldives opposition have raised concerns that Chinese infrastructure loans will turn into “debt traps,” particularly after a major Chinese-financed port in neighboring Sri Lanka passed into Chinese control last year when Colombo couldn’t repay.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson…called China’s infrastructure-financing deals an example of “predatory economics” that saddle developing countries with unsustainable debt and could undercut their sovereignty.  Mr. Gayoom steered a constitutional amendment through parliament in 2015 allowing foreigners to own land, a change the government said was meant to attract investment and critics in the country said could help Beijing establish a military foothold.

In recent years, China has built a naval base in Djibouti in East Africa; in addition to the port in Sri Lanka, it operates one in Pakistan. A senior Indian navy officer said Chinese submarines and research vessels are visiting the Indian Ocean more frequently.

The Indian military deploys aircraft specialized in anti-submarine warfare to patrol the ocean, and its government is negotiating the purchase of U.S. drones with advanced surveillance features. India also plans to build new attack submarines, and a military upgrade is afoot in its Andaman and Nicobar Islands, whose capital is around 1,200 nautical miles from Malé.

Excerpts from China-India Rivarly Plays out in Maldives, Wall Street Journal, Mar. 6, 2019

The Battle of 1500 at Diego Garcia

coconut crabs at chagos islands

On June 22nd, 2017 the UN weighed in on a dispute between Britain and Mauritius over the Chagos islands, a tiny but strategically important archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Ninety-four countries sided with Mauritius; just 15 backed Britain… Only four members of the EU voted with Britain; one, Cyprus, voted with Mauritius and 22 abstained, including usually reliable allies France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain.

The roots of the dispute go back to 1965, when Britain lopped off the Chagos islands from Mauritius, at the time a British colony. It loaned the largest island, Diego Garcia, to America to use as a military base. Since then the atoll, which is within striking distance of east Africa, the Middle East and South-East Asia, has become indispensable for America’s armed forces, who nickname it “the footprint of freedom”. It gives them control over the Indian Ocean and has served as a base for long-range bombers to pummel Afghanistan and Iraq. The CIA used it as a “black site” in its rendition programme.

But taking over Diego Garcia for military use meant deporting some 1,500 Chagossians, mostly to Mauritius and the Seychelles. They have never been allowed to return; many moved to Britain. (After landing at Gatwick airport, they were given temporary accommodation nearby in Crawley, where most of them still live.)

The importance of the vote should not be exaggerated. It refers the case to the ICJ, whose opinion will be non-binding….The ICJ will probably offer an advisory opinion on the matter, but not before the spring of 2019.

Excerpt from: Britain and Diego Garcia: Tropical Storm, Economist, July 1, 2017