Diplomacy Politics

Maldives’ engagement with China, Pakistan “too secretive” for India

NEW DELHI: While the Abdulla Yameen government has lifted Emergency in the Maldives, India remains upset with Male for the opaque manner in which it is carrying out not just its China policy but also its overtures to Pakistan. The latest issue niggling India is Male’s decision to discuss with Islamabad a visit by Pakistan army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa without first bringing it to the notice of South Block.
Despite its stated India First policy, the Yameen government has not bothered, unlike all other previous governments in Male, to take India into confidence on major issues in the spirit of mutual trust whether it’s the Chinese investments in the Maldives or the ocean observatory Beijing wants to build right under India’s nose.

“As usual, the current Maldivian regime remains secretive about the dealings with the Chinese and Pakistanis unlike previous governments which took us into confidence in advance on such issues,’’ said a top Indian official on condition of anonymity when asked about Bajwa’s visit to Pakistan. He added that India was closely following reports that Bajwa was going to visit Male on March 31.

As TOI had first reported on February 26, China is looking to build what the Maldives officially describes as a Joint Ocean Observation Station on the westernmost atoll of Makunudhoo in northern Maldives, not far from Lakshadweep. Even as it seeks to convince India that the observatory will have no military application, it has refused to share a copy of the agreement for the observatory with the Indian government.

Official sources here said that former foreign secretary S Jaishankar had sought a clarification from the Maldivian ambassador, Ahmed Mohamed, over the issue. Mohamed is learnt to have told Jaishankar that China was only looking to build a meteorological ocean observation centre in the Maldives.

A senior official of the Maldivian government told TOI too that the agreement signed was for meteorological purposes but refused to share a copy saying it was not a public document.

While the President’s official website calls the agreement The Protocol on Establishment of Joint Ocean Observation Station between the Maldives and China, the Maldivian official claimed that the website probably “forgot” to add the word meteorological to it.

A marine observatory, as strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney says, is an important tool to gather information on ocean state, phenomena and processes in order to have a better understanding of ocean dynamics and grasp regional characteristics and vulnerabilities.

“A Chinese-built marine observatory in the Maldives will yield a variety of physical, chemical and biological data to better understand the specific characteristics of that part of the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea so as to optimally deploy nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) in India’s maritime backyard. This will complete India’s strategic encirclement,’’ he says.

As Vice Admiral (Rtd) Jagjit Singh Bedi had tweeted, in response to the TOI story on the proposed observatory, China needed accurate and reliable hydrological data for sub surface operations. “Precursor to prolonged deployment of SSBN/ SSN operations in the Arabian Sea. To be read in conjunction with surveys conducted off Gwadar (the Pakistan port which China has built and controls) to analyse tectonic activity,’’ tweeted Bedi

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