Asia in Review Archive 2021
Date of AiR edition
31 August 2021
India, Maldives sign pact on Greater Male Connectivity Project
(lm) India and the Maldives on August 26 signed a contract on the Greater Male Connectivity project (GMCP), a major infrastructure project centered around the construction of a 6.7-kilometers-long bridge and causeway network connecting the island state’s capital Malé with the neighboring islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi. [Hindustan Times] [The Economic Times]
The mega project is an outcome of bilateral consultations both countries since India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visit to Malé in September 2019. Funded by an Indian grant of $100 million, with a Line of Credit of $400 million, it constitutes the biggest development project by India in its neighborhood in recent years. [The Indian Express]
This project is significant because it facilitates inter-island connectivity between the country’s four major islands, where 50 percent of the Maldivian population live. Already, the China-funded Sinamalé Bridge links Malé with the islands of Hulhulé and Hulhumalé.
24 August 2021
Maldives, Saudi Arabia discuss relations
(lm) Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid held a phone conversation with his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan on August 17 to discuss bilateral relations and ways of developing and strengthening them in various fields. The two ministers also discussed aspects of enhancing joint coordination in regional and international issues, in addition to many issues of common interest. [Arab News]
17 August 2021
Indo-Pacific forces from 21 partner nations kick off SEACAT
(lm) Maritime forces from Indo-Pacific partner nations on August 10 began the 20th iteration of the Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training (SEACAT) naval exercise in Singapore and virtually. [Al Jazeera] [NavyTimes]
Signifying the largest iteration to date, this year’s exercise involves ten ships and more than 400 personnel. 21 nations participate, including Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Maldives, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam.
This year’s also presents a new element by incorporating international organizations and nongovernmental organizations, whose objective is to create an even more realistic scenario to “enhance understanding and adherence to accepted rules, laws, and norms,” the US Navy said in a statement. Participants include United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC), EU Critical Maritime Route Wider Indian Ocean (CRIMARIO), and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). [Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet]
The SEACAT exercises commenced just a day after more than 10,000 troops from China and Russia began a major exercise, West-Interaction 2021, in China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. [AiR No. 32, August/2021, 2]
Last year, the event was conducted as part of a virtual symposium amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
17 August 2021
Sri Lanka, India, Maldives to cooperate on maritime safety and security
(lm) As strategic rivalries in the Indian Ocean Region continue to intensify, a multilateral grouping comprising of India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives last week hold a virtual gathering that brought together the top security officials of the three countries. [South China Morning Post]
The Colombo Security Conclave on August 4 hosted its second meeting in eight months, during which the neighbors emphasized “four pillars” of cooperation, including maritime security, counterterrorism, human trafficking and cybersecurity. [The Hindu]
The Deputy National Security Adviser-level meeting was hosted online by Sri Lanka, and chaired by General Shavendra Silva, the Acting Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Sri Lankan Army. The Indian deputy National Security Adviser and his Maldivian counterpart participated.
The group was formed in 2011 and revived in November last year after a six-year hiatus. It is now poised to expand its full-time membership to Bangladesh, Seychelles and Mauritius, which currently hold observer status.
The virtual gathering came nine months after India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval concluded a three-day visit to Sri Lanka – his second visit to the country in 2020. Besides meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Doval also participated in the 4th National Security Adviser-level meeting of the Maritime Security Cooperation, a trilateral forum with defense ministers from the Maldives and Sri Lanka, with officials from Mauritius and Seychelles attending virtually. [AiR No. 48, December/2020, 1]
Earlier this year then, the navies of the three countries participated in the virtual trilateral tabletop exercise “TTX-2021”, which New Delhi said was symbolic of “the deep trilateral engagement” in the maritime domain between members of the trilateral.
3 August 2021
Maldives: Ruling party askes President Solih to impose state of emergency
(lm) An internal congress of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has passed a motion calling on President Ibrahim Solih to impose a state of emergency to allegedly determine the extent of threat of religious extremism and to allow security services to capture suspected terrorists. [The Times of Addu]
The motion, which was passed at a virtual National Congress meeting on August 1, had been submitted by MDP leader and incumbent Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed, who is currently receiving medical treatment in the United Kingdom for injuries sustained during a failed assassination attempt in May [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2].
Prior to the MDP Congress, police last month concluded its probe into the attack on Nasheed, revealing the identities of ten individuals, including the alleged mastermind. Authorities said the suspects supported jihadists ideology, adding that the investigation was not able not establish direct links between the local cell and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group [see AiR No. 30, July/2021, 4]. However, Nasheed – a critic of rising extremism in the Indian Ocean archipelago state – remained unsatisfied with the extent of the inquiry.
With the required minimum of 37 votes, the MDP Congress passed the resolution with the votes of 39 out of 43 members present. Twice as many members, however, stayed away from the virtual session, including President Solih. Noticeably, amongst the dissenting voices was that of Ali Azim, the Majority Leader in Parliament, otherwise considered a supporter of Nasheed. During the MDP Congress, he pointed to the exclusivity of the President’s powers in proclaiming emergency and how the party should not pass such a resolution without involving him. [raajje] [The Edition]
Lawmakers close to President Solih are reportedly concerned that the party could risk de-registration for directing the President in what the Constitution defines as his exclusive executive preserve. [Observer Research Foundation]
The Maldives has gone into a state of emergency on multiple occasions, with the last one announced by then President Abdulla Yameen in 2018 in an escalation of a battle with the country’s Supreme Court. Yameen had earlier defied a Supreme Court ruling to release nine jailed opposition leaders, prompting a wave of protests in the capital, Malé, with angry clashes between police and demonstrators. [AiR (3/2/2018)]
In light of recent developments, it is apparent that battles lines are getting increasingly drawn deeper in what is becoming a fratricidal war of words and nerves between rival factions of the ruling MDP. For Nasheed declared earlier last month that he could no longer align himself politically with his long-time friend Solih, which he accused of reneging on his pledge to address religious extremism. [AiR No. 29, July/2021, 3]
27 July 2021
Maldives: Authorities conclude probe of assassination attempt on former president, name ringleader
(lm) Authorities in the Maldives have concluded the probe into the failed assassination attempt on the country’s Speaker of Parliament and former President Mohamed Nasheed, revealing the identities of ten individuals, including the alleged mastermind. [The Week]
Nasheed was seriously injured when improvised explosive device (IED) detonated outside his home in the capital, Male, in May [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2]. Since then, Maldivian security agencies had been tight-lipped about the investigations, only indicating that jihadists elements remained the primary suspect for the attempt on Nasheed’s life, although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
During a press conference on July 24, then, authorities said the suspects supported jihadists ideology, adding that the investigation could not establish direct links between the local cell and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group.
20 July 2021
Maldives: Rift in ruling party out in the open
(lm) The former Maldivian President and incumbent Speaker of Parliament, Mohamed Nasheed, has declared his decision to break ‘political alignment’ with long-time friend and sitting President Ibrahim Solih. [Observer Research Foundation]
In a statement issued on July 17, Nasheed accused the president of reneging on his pledge to address religious extremism, referring to the government’s “withdrawal” of support for a recent bill which sought to criminalize hate crimes. In a thinly veiled reference to Home Minister Imran Abdullah’s Islamic Adhaalath Party, Nasheed claimed that people “did not vote for religious extremists who would deny their liberty and remove the things they love most from society”. [South Asia Monitor]
The bill was tabled after Nasheed had been seriously injured when improvised explosive device (IED) detonated outside his home in the capital, Male earlier in May [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2]. Maldivian security agencies have been tight-lipped about the investigations, only indicated that jihadists elements remain the primary suspect for the attempt on Nasheed’s life, although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Nasheed’s comments came against the larger backdrop of growing tensions within the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) over the government’s policies, mainly on corruption and religious extremism. While some lawmakers back President Solih’s “restrained” approach that they find politically prudent, other MPs take the view that President Solih’s pledge to address religious extremism and ensure justice for past victims of their violent attacks has been “overshadowed” by this intention to keep the ruling coalition intact. [The Hindu]
Earlier this month, has confirmed his intention to run in the primary of his MDP for the 2023 presidential election, while also claiming he was planning to conduct a national referendum next year to decide if the country would prefer a parliamentary system in lieu of the current presidential system [see AiR No. 27, July/2021, 1]. But lawmakers surrounding President Solih have been airing the view that the party should give the incumbent a second term in office. Nasheed, justified as he may – or may not – be, was still young and could take a shot in 2028, under a governmental system of his choice.
6 July 2021
Maldives: Former President Nasheed confirms intention to run in presidential election
(lm) Former Maldives President and incumbent Speaker of Parliament Mohamed Nasheed has confirmed his intention to run in the primary of his ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) for the 2023 presidential election. [avas]
Nasheed, who currently resides in Germany for treatment after a failed assassination attempt outside his home earlier in May [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2], also suggested conducting a national referendum next year to decide if the country would prefer a parliamentary system in lieu of the current presidential system. Significantly, he claimed that the Progressive Party of Maldives of his major political opponent – former President Abdullah Yameen – would also support the change.
The country last conducted such a referendum in 2007, when it chose the presidential system of governance. Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the archipelago, was forced to resign in 2012 under the pressure from the country’s defense forces. He returned to the country from self-imposed exile after incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih won the 2018 elections [see AiR (1/10/2018)].
29 June 2021
China holds Belt and Road conference
(dql) China held on June 23 a virtual conference on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Attending countries include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Chile, China, Colombia, Fiji, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. Unlike the two previous conferences in 2017 and 2019 when heads of state and heads of government took part, this year’s forum was held at ministerial level.
Equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and ensuring climate-friendly growth in the post-pandemic era topped the conferenced agenda. Among the major outcomes of the conference were two initiatives: first, the Belt and Road Partnership on COVID-19 Vaccines Cooperation” which addresses especially developing countries in boosting international cooperation in vaccine research and development, production and distribution, and improving accessibility and affordability of vaccines globally; and second, the Initiative for Belt and Road Partnership on Green Development, which seeks to strengthen cooperation among BRI countries in several areas including as green infrastructure, green energy and green finance, and promote green, low-carbon and sustainable development.” [The Diplomat]
22 June 2021
Maldives: Election commissioner resigns
(lm) The President of the Election Commission (EC), Ahmed Shareef, has resigned from his position after being offered to fill government post. [avas]
Shareef was appointed by former President Abdullah Yameen as the chief of the EC just days before the 2018 presidential elections. As the EC chairman, he oversaw three major elections: he 2018 presidential elections, the 2019 parliamentary elections, and the 2021 Local Council and Women’s development Awards which were originally scheduled to take place in April of last year but had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic [see AiR No. 16, April/2021, 3].
22 June 2021
Maldives: Authorities conduct counterterrorism operation in prisons
(lm) Authorities have conducted counterterrorism operations in two prisons, in relation to the assassination attempt on Maldives’ Speaker of Parliament and former President Mohamed Nasheed on May 6. [raajje]
Nasheed was seriously injured when improvised explosive device (IED) detonated outside his home in the capital, Male [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2]. The operations were the latest in a series of raids conducted after police earlier this month in a press conference said they had received tips from over 150 individuals in relation to the attack.
Maldivian security agencies have been tight-lipped about the investigations, only indicated that jihadists elements remain the primary suspect for the attempt on Nasheed’s life, although no group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Four suspected had been arrested during initial security operations were taken into custody, with authorities informing that they all carried “extremist ideologies”. They have since denied involvement in the attack on Nasheed [see AiR No. 21, May/2021, 4]. Another 10 individuals were arrested in the counter-terrorism operations launched after the bombing.
Meanwhile, the Parliament Committee on National Security Services is probing on how Nasheed’s security was breached, after local media reports had alleged that he was warned by security forces over their inability to provide him security at his current residential address [see AiR No. 23, June/2021, 2].
8 June 2021
Maldives: Journalists raise concern as Parliament orders inquiry into investigative report
(lm) Media outlets, alongside the Maldives Journalist Association, have raised concerns over a recent inquiry ordered by a parliamentary committee into an investigative report on the security details of former President and current Parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed.
Nasheed was seriously injured in an assassination attempt earlier last month [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2]. A story published by a local media outlet alleged that he was warned by security forces over their inability to provide him security at his current residential address, citing sources within the country’s security establishment.
Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), however, rejected the report, calling it “propaganda” to defame him. On May 29, then, Parliament’s Security Services Committee ordered an inquiry to seek out the sources of the story within the Maldives National Defense Forces.
The Maldives Journalist Association called the move concerning, saying the inquiry should not be extended to also include the journalists or the media outlet that published the report.
25 May 2021
Maldives: President appoints special envoy to monitor investigation into attack on former president
(lm) President Ibrahim Solih has appointed Abbas Faiz as the government’s special envoy to oversee the investigation of suspects linked to the assassination attempt on Parliament Speaker and former President Mohamed Nasheed [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2]. [Xinhua]
An expert in Human Rights, Faiz formerly served as Amnesty International’s Senior Researcher on South Asia. He currently teaches Human Rights at the School of Law at the University of Essex.
18 May 2021
Maldives: Government to order intelligence audit of security forces
(lm) Following an assassination attempt on former President and current Parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has announced that his administration will proceed with an intelligence audit for national security forces.
Mohamed Nasheed was seriously injured when a device attached to a motorcycle was detonated as he got into a car late on May 6 [see AiR No. 19, May/2021, 2]. President Solih claimed that the audit would reveal flaws in the intelligence framework and would clarify why there had been no explicit reports of a threat to Nasheed’s life despite the imminent attack. [raajje]
So far three people have been arrested in connection with the attack – including a key suspect, who is believed to have links with Islamist extremists – but all three have denied charges of terrorism at court.
18 May 2021
Maldives: More than 110 state officials benefited in corruption scandal, according to report
(lm) 119 former and incumbent state officials are among 282 suspected beneficiaries of the MMPRC corruption scandal, according to a report by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) that was published on May 12. [raajje] [The Edition]
Named after the parastatal Maldives Marketing & Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC), which gave out undervalued leases on islands and reefs in return for alleged bribes and kickbacks, the MMPRC scheme was first exposed in investigations by Al Jazeera in 2016, then detailed island-by-island by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) in 2018.
Former President Abdulla Yameen is currently serving a five-year jail sentence after investigations in 2019 had revealed a deal to lease tropical islands for hotel development, and an alleged payment of $1 million of government money through a private company into Yameen’s personal bank account. [AiR No. 49, December/2019, 1]
11 May 2021
Maldives: Former President Nasheed seriously injured in assassination attempt
(lm) Former President and current Parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed was rushed to hospital on May 6 after he was injured in a suspected bomb explosion as he was getting into his car in the capital Malé. Initial reports suggested an explosive device had been fastened to a motorbike that was parked nearby. [The Guardian]
There has been no claim of responsibility, but officials from Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have alleged that religious extremists and political interests could be involved. So far, three individuals including a key suspect have been arrested in connection with the attack. [The Straits Times]
Nasheed became the country’s first democratically elected president in 2008 but was ousted in a coup four years later. After a conviction on terrorism charges, he was unable to contest the 2018 presidential elections. He returned to the country from self-imposed exile after incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih won the 2018 elections [see AiR (1/10/2018)]. Nasheed became parliament speaker, the Maldives’ second most powerful position, after his MDP’s landslide victory in April 2019 elections.
11 May 2021
EU and India to boost trade, Indo-Pacific partnership
(lm) The European Union and India have agreed to resume long-stalled talks on a free trade deal, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced on May 8. Brussel and New Delhi will also launch negotiations on reciprocal investments and on the protection of so-called geographical indications. [South China Morning Post]
Earlier on May 8, the first EU-Indian Leaders’ Meeting brought together all 27 heads of the EU member states and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Considering that previous EU-India summits have involved only the Indian prime minister and the heads of the European Commission and the European Council, the recent summit signals the bloc’s renewed interest in the Indo-Pacific region. [Reuters]
Last month, the EU Council asked the European Commission and high representatives to draw up the bloc’s Indo-Pacific strategy by September this year. In doing so, the Council unveiled the strategy’s main thrust, which included exploring closer economic ties with India and pledging to foster a rules-based order with “free and open maritime supply routes in full compliance with international law”, without naming China.
Earlier last week, the EU also said that efforts to ratify the proposed EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) with China had been suspended after Beijing imposed sanctions on several high-profile members of the European Parliament, three members of national parliaments, two EU committees, and several China-focused European academics.
For a comprehensive examination of the decision, please consider Chris Devonshire-Ellis’ comment for [China Briefing].
20 April 2021
Maldives: Newly elected mayors, counselors to take oath in mid-May, according to authorities
(lm) The Local Government Authority (LGA) has announced that the recently elected members and presidents of the country’s 200 Local Councils will be sworn into office in mid-May. Before, 982 representatives were elected on April 10 through the Local Council Elections, which were originally scheduled to take place in April of last year but had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. [raajje 1]
For the first time, Women’s Development Committee representatives, who are responsible for upholding women’s rights and increasing their political participation, were also elected through the Local Council elections. For a comprehensive analysis of the importance of the elections for the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), please consider N Sathiya Moorthy’s article for the [Observer Research Foundation].
Meanwhile, the president of the Election Commission (EC) has criticized the country’s major political parties for resorting to “irresponsible” behavior after unidentified people had vandalized the MDP’s headquarters in the capital. [raajje 2]
20 April 2021
Maldives: Human Rights Commission launches investigation after terror suspect alleges custodial torture
(lm) The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has launched an investigation after a detained terror suspect on April 16 alleged custodial torture by law enforcement officers. When HRCM officers visited the detention center on April 16, police said they had used pepper spray on multiple occasions because the suspect – one of eight arrested last year for allegedly plotting an act of terror – had resisted following protocols and showed aggressive behavior while in custody. [raajje]
23 March 2021
Maldives president meets Emir of Qatar; first since reinstating diplomatic ties
(lm) Indicating a thaw in relations between the Maldives and Qatar, a high-level Maldivian delegation visited the Gulf nation on March 15 – the first since Malé’s decision in January to reinstate full diplomatic relations with Doha [see AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]. During the working visit, Maldives President Ibrahim Mohammad Solih met with the Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to discuss ways to enhance bilateral relations by strengthening economic cooperation.
Accusing Qatar of being too close to Iran and financing terrorist groups, in June 2017, Saudi Arabia and its allies, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt had severed ties with Qatar and imposed a naval, air and land blockade on the country. In solidarity with the quartet, the Maldives had followed suit hours after the announcement, giving rise to rumors that the government under then President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom had been influenced by Riyadh.
2 March 2021
With pacts with Maldives and Mauritius, India seeks to offset Chinese influence in Indian Ocean Region
(lm) India and Mauritius have signed a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (CEPCA) – New Delhi’s first such agreement with an African country – to provide preferential access to several items that cater to market requirements on both sides. Both countries also signed a $100 million Line of Credit agreement to enable the procurement of defense assets from India. [The Hindu]
Both documents were signed on February 22, the first day of India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar two-day visit to Mauritius. During his visit, Jaishankar met with high-ranking Maldivian officials, including the president and prime minister Pravind Jugnauth – both of Indian-origin.
The signing of the CEPCA assumes added significance, coming as it does shortly after India signed a $50 million Line of Credit agreement with the Maldives and agreed to develop and maintain a key naval facility for the Maldivian Coast Guard [see AiR No. 8, February/2021, 4].
There is a good case to believe that both events have to be seen against the larger backdrop of the ‘String of Pearls’ theory on potential Chinese government intentions in the Indian Ocean region (IOR). Specifically, it is built upon the assumption that China is aiming to establish a network of commercial and military assets to support Chinese naval operations along the Sea Lane of Communications (SLOCs), which extend from the Chinese mainland to Port Sudan in the Horn of Africa. [South Asia Monitor]
To counter Chinese influence in the IOR, New Delhi has been stepping up efforts to deepen its sot-power bonds with both the Maldives and Mauritius. Both island nations were among the first countries to receive free consignments of Covishield (the local name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developed in the United Kingdom), when India first utilized its vast manufacturing capacity to bolster bilateral ties in January [see AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1]
India’s naval footprint in the Indo-Pacific has also been boosted by growing ties with France, which enjoys basing rights in Réunion, an Indian Ocean island in East Africa. Last year, the navies of both countries for the first time conducted joint patrols from the small island nation, signaling New Delhi’s intent to expand its footprint in the stretch between the East African coastline and the Strait of Malacca.
23 February 2021
India continues engagement with Maldives, signs $50 million Line of Credit
(lm) Indicating deepening security cooperation, India and the Maldives have signed a $50 million Line of Credit agreement and agreed to develop and maintain a key naval facility for the Maldivian Coast Guard. Both documents were signed on February 21, the second and final day of India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visit to the Maldives. Five other agreements, including one for a $25-million Line of Credit for the development of roads, were signed the previous day. [mint] [The Hindu] [Hindustan Times]
During his visit, Jaishankar also promised that India would strongly support the candidature of Maldives’ Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid for President of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly next year.
Jaishankar also said that India would like to work with the Maldives during its membership of the United Nations Security Council for 2021-22.
To counter China ’s growing financial footprint in South Asia, New Delhi has provided a host of support measures to the Maldives since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, injecting more than $2 billion trough loans, grants, credit lines and currency swaps [see e.g. AiR No. 33, August/2020, 3, AiR No. 38, September/2020, 4]. What is more, the archipelagic state was the first country to receive free consignments of Covishield (the local name for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developed in the United Kingdom), when India first utilized its vast manufacturing capacity to bolster bilateral ties in January. [see AiR No. 5, February/2021, 1]
16 February 2021
Maldives, Bangladesh sign two Memoranda of Understanding
(lm) During a visit of Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid to Bangladesh last week, both countries signed two Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) pertaining to the recruitment of manpower and the training of foreign service officers. [Dhaka Tribune]
The two South Asian nations further agreed to establish two regular consultation mechanisms to boost cooperation on trade and business, in addition to a direct shipping line. The two mechanisms include a joint commission for comprehensive cooperation led by the respective foreign ministers and annual foreign office consultations led by the respective foreign secretaries. [The Daily Star]
2 February 2021
Maldives, China revive bilateral talks
(lm) On January 26, Maldivian Foreign Minister Ahmed Khaleel via video link co-hosted the 7th round of China-Maldives diplomatic consultations with China’s vice foreign minister. The meeting comes after Khaleel together with the country’s finance minister last November met with China’s envoy to the Maldives to talk about economic recovery and development cooperation. [Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China] [raajjee.mv]
Ongoing talks between China and the Maldives come at a time, when Male is said of have been drawn deep into China’s so-called debt-trap diplomacy, as the country is estimated to have accumulated $1.5 billion in debt to Beijing, equivalent to 45 percent of the island nation’s national debt. China has already reduced this year’s loan repayment to $75 million from the scheduled $100 million under the G20 ‘Debt Service Suspension Initiative’, and agreed to partially suspend debt repayment applicable to $600 million in loans for a period of approximately four years [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1].
The majority of these loan agreements were signed during the five-year tenure of now-incarcerated president Abdulla Yameen. At the time, China was embarking on its grand Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and therefore, financed several major projects between 2013 and 2018 [see e.g., AiR No. 39, September/2019, 4].
26 January 2021
Maldives: Parliament passes bill to allow for elections during health emergency
(lm) The Maldives parliament on January 19 passed an amendment to the “Special Bill for the Local Council Elections 2020”, paving the way for the country’s Election Commission (EC) to hold local council elections amid the state of public emergency. The same day, a civil court quashed a petition filed by opposition lawmakers demanding directions to the government for equal opportunity for campaigning. [South Asia Monitor]
Originally slated for April last year, the local elections got postponed indefinitely in May, after a State of Public Health Emergency was declared in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly thereafter, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ratified an amendment to Article 231 of the Constitution, extending the terms of incumbent councilors. He also ratified legislation delineating the powers of council members who remained in office during the interim period to allow for the continued functioning of a decentralized government. [AiR No. 2, January/2021, 2]
Prior to the parliamentary session, the EC on January 20 revealed that it required an additional $3.3 million to hold the local council elections in line with the Health Protection Agency (HPA)’s guidelines. [The Edition]
19 January 2021
China in the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific”
(dql) Shortly before Joe Biden will be sworn in as US President in this week, the Trump administration declassified and published the “U.S. Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific”, approved by President Trump in 2018 and stamped secret and not for release to foreign nationals until 2043.
The 10-page national security strategy paper identifies maintaining “U.S. strategic primacy over the Indo-Pacific region,” and promoting “a liberal economic order, while preventing China from establishing new, illiberal spheres of influence and cultivating areas of cooperation to promote regional peace and prosperity” one of three national security challenges, along with North Korea’s threat to the US and its allies as well as the advancement of US global economic leadership.
Furthermore, the document assumes that the “[s]trategic competition between the United States and China will persists,” with China “circumvent[ing] international norms and rules to gain advantage,” and seeking to “dissolve U.S. alliances and partnerships,” in order to “exploit vacuums and opportunities created by these diminished bonds.”
As an desired outcome with regards to China, the “United States and its partners on every continent” shall become “resistant to Chinese activities aimed at undermining their sovereignty, including through covert or coercive influence.” [White House, USA]
For a concise assessment of what has been achieved under this strategic framework, see Grant Newsham in [Asia Times] who argues that “Trump and his staff are handing off to Joseph Biden an Indo-Pacific that is better off than it was in 2017.
19 January 2021
Chinese envoy meets Maldives Foreign Minister Abdullah Sahid
China’s ambassador to the Maldives has met with Maldivian Foreign Minister Abdullah Sahid to discuss ways for enhanced and closer corporation between two countries in 2021. [South Asia Monitor]
As the country has so far been unable to offset the impact of the drastic reduction in tourism activity caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Malé is currently seeking a loan restructuring from Beijing. Beijing has already reduced last year’s loan repayment to $75 million from the scheduled $100 million under the G20 ‘Debt Service Suspension Initiative’, and agreed to partially suspend debt repayment applicable to $600 million in loans for a period of approximately four years [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1]. Earlier last month, China then agreed to defer repayment for loans which were secured via state-owned companies [see AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2].
12 January 2021
Maldives: Extraordinary session of Parliament scheduled to facilitate local council elections
(lm) The Maldives government has called an extraordinary sitting of Parliament for January 13 to pass necessary amendments that would empower the Election Commission (EC) to hold local council elections amid the state of public emergency. Under the fresh amendments, the EC would also be able to announce dates for elections. [The Edition]
Originally slated for April last year, the polls were postponed indefinitely in last May, after a State of Public Health Emergency was declared in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Shortly thereafter, the Maldives passed the Sunset Act, which allowed the EC to delay the local council elections until early May this year. According to the EC, the local elections could be held before Ramadan (April 13), provided the required amendments are ratified within the month. [Avas]
12 January 2021
Maldives to resume diplomatic ties with Qatar
(lm) A day after the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional intergovernmental alliance consisting of all Arab states of the Persian Gulf – except Iraq – officially ended its diplomatic dispute with Qatar, the Maldives also decided to reinstate full diplomatic relations with Doha. Reinstating diplomatic ties with the Gulf nation was one of the electoral pledges of incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s government. [The Edition]
Accusing Qatar of being too close to Iran and financing terrorist groups, in June 2017, Saudi Arabia and its allies, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt severed ties with Qatar and imposed a naval, air and land blockade on the country. In solidarity with the quartet, the Maldives had followed suit hours after the announcement, giving rise to rumors that the government under then-President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom had been influenced by Saudi Arabia.
5 January 2021
Maldives president on unofficial trip to Dubai, meets with crown prince
(lm) Maldives President Mohammad Soli on January 2 embarked on a three-day visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While his office had not revealed any further details beforehand, Soli on January 2 met with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi to discuss bilateral relations. [Saudi Gazette]
5 January 2021
Maldives signs debt relief suspension deal with Japan, France, and United States
(lm) In a major relief to an already debt-ridden country, the Maldives has signed a series of agreements with Japan, France, and the United States under the G20 ‘Debt Service Suspension Initiative’ to temporarily suspend debt-service payments owed to bilateral creditors. Earlier in September, the government had signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the treatment of debt service suspensions with the representatives of various lenders countries. [The Edition 1] [The Edition 2] [Raajjee.mv]
The economic outlook for the Maldives has deteriorated dramatically in recent months, as the country has been unable to offset the impact of the drastic reduction in tourism activity caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Against the larger backdrop of projections of a more severe and prolonged external liquidity pressures than initially forecasted, Fitch Ratings in November downgraded the country’s credit rating to ‘CCC’ from ‘B’, ranking Malé’s vulnerability to default as ‘a real possibility’. [AiR No. 46, November/2020, 3]
Moreover, Malé is estimated to have accumulated $1.5 billion in debt to China, equivalent to 45 percent of the island nation’s national debt. Beijing has already reduced this year’s loan repayment to $75 million from the scheduled $100 million under the G20 ‘Debt Service Suspension Initiative’, and agreed to partially suspend debt repayment applicable to $600 million in loans for a period of approximately four years [see AiR No. 44, November/2020, 1]. Earlier last month, China then agreed to defer repayment for loans which were secured via state-owned companies [see AiR No. 49, December/2020, 2].