Saudi Arabia faces backlash over $10bn Maldives development plan – Financial Times

The Faafu Atoll region in the Maldives, where Saudi Arabia plans to invest $10bn © Alamy

Saudi Arabia’s push to boost political and trade ties with the Maldives faces growing resistance as activists in the archipelago oppose plans for an ambitious development project funded by the kingdom.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz, who is on a month-long tour of Asia as Saudi Arabia seeks to deepen alliances with predominantly Muslim states in the region, is due to visit the Indian Ocean nation at the weekend.

The monarch, accompanied by an entourage of hundreds, is expected to book out two entire resorts among the more than 1,000 islands and islets of the Maldives as he takes a break, according to people briefed on the plans.

But his visit is considered to be more than a holiday: his government and members of the royal family are in talks to launch ambitious projects in the archipelago spanning tourism and airport development, according to politicians and Gulf bankers.

“The Maldives are of strategic importance to the Saudis, as well as offering a good south-south investment outlet,” said a Saudi government adviser. “This is a manifestation of Riyadh’s new foreign policy — creating an alliance against extremism and terrorism, a fundamental reorientation of policy.”

King Salman’s tour has already taken him to China, Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia, where the government has signed a series of investment agreements, including for refineries and petrochemical projects.

But the multibillion dollar plan in the Maldives’ Faafu Atoll region has triggered a backlash, with opposition politicianscomplaining the deal will force islanders from their homes, facilitate corruption and exacerbate environmental concerns.

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