Maldivian president Abdullah Yameen with Chinese president Xi Jinping in Beijing in December 2017.

NEW DELHI (TIP): Relative to India, China is a late entrant in the Maldives, a key Indian Ocean nation and the only SAARC member-state Prime Minister Narendra Modi is yet to visit.

But China may well have stolen a march over India, which hasn’t quite managed to have its concerns over happenings in the island nation addressed by Maldives president Abdullah Yameen, who extended the emergency in his country much to New Delhi’s dismay, according to Hindustan Times report.

Maldives’ reluctance to follow its promised “India-first” policy has, in recent times, become an irritant for New Delhi.

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj conveyed this to her Maldivian counterpart, Mohamed Asim, in as many words when they met in New Delhi last month, an official familiar with the development recalled. “The minister conveyed the message that the India-first policy is as important a part of taking bilateral ties forward as India’s neighbourhood-first policy,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Although the Chinese footprint in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region is something New Delhi has learnt to live with despite an understandable unease, the rapid expansion in ties between Male and Beijing has become a larger cause of concern. The Maldives – located around 700 km from Indian shores – has become a showpiece of mega projects-driven Chinese foreign policy as well as an important player in President Xi Jinping’s marquee one road- one-belt project. Chinese presence in the island nation has been growing steadily ever since Beijing opened an embassy in Male in 2011, about 37 years after India set up its mission there.

The Indian Ocean region has around 40 countries and is home to 40% of the world’s population. It touches Australia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia and the eastern sea bend of Africa — making the countries that rim the ocean vital cogs in the geopolitical ambitions of both India and China.

Source: HT

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