With the cancellation of his visit, King Salman becomes the second global leader to have dropped Maldives from a multination visit.
The much-awaited Maldivian leg of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman’s Asia tour was cancelled on the very eve of his scheduled arrival on Saturday, 18 March, purportedly owing to the eruption of H1Ni swine flu infection in the country. New dates for the visit would be announced once they are finalised, Maldivian Foreign Minister Mohamed Asim informed the media.
Doubts had arisen about King Salman’s Maldives visit after he extended the Indonesian leg of his month-long Asia tour by three days for a holiday. However, his luxury yacht Al Salamah, a support vessel of the royal navy, helicopters, and military personnel had been in Maldives for over a week. This should give credence to the claim that the cancellation was due to feared health risks associated with swine flu, and not otherwise.
It’s unclear if the postponement of King Salman’s visit also seals/delays the fate of the high profile $10 billion dollar Saudi investment plans for Faafu Atoll in Maldives.
The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) especially had come down heavily on the project, claiming that it aimed at the sale of Maldivian territory to a third country and lacked transparency. Early on, the party had also dubbed the project proposal as ‘Saudi colonialism’ for ‘spread of Wahhabism.’
Until the cancellation was announced, President Abdulla Yameen was also playing safe about the investment proposal. He and his ministerial colleagues flatly denied any ‘sale’ of Maldivian territory and lack-of-transparency charges. A fortnight or so before the intended visit, the Maldivian government did not make any formal announcement about it, until the Saudi media announced it. Even then, no fixed dates had been mentioned in the local media.
Yameen himself kept saying that the project details would be made public once the finer details had been worked out. He denied the suggestion that the Faafu Atoll deal was being contemplated under a Yameen-inspired constitutional amendment of 2015, facilitating property-transfer to foreigners, for investments involving $1 billion plus and 70 percent reclaimed land.
With this cancellation, King Salman becomes only the second major global/regional leader to have dropped Maldives from a multination visit after Yameen came to power. In March 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi left out Maldives from his historic four-nation Indian Ocean neighbourhood tour following the arrest and imprisonment of former MDP President Mohammed Nasheed and the accompanying street protests in the capital city of Male. It was a cause of concern for the visitor’s security team.
The comparison should, however, end there. Any massive third nation interest and investment in the immediate Indian Ocean neighbourhood should be of concern to the larger Indian neighbour. Maldives falls within globally accepted ‘traditional sphere of Indian influence.’
Post-Cold War, a rising China has even raised an unnecessary argument that the “Indian Ocean is not India’s Ocean.”
However, China has continued to claim primacy and supremacy over both South China Sea and East China Sea, thus continuing to create tensions in the region — and for the rest of the world, as well.
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