Regional competition between India and China has landed on a new prize: the Maldives. For both countries, the sovereign archipelago represents more than just an idyllic vacation spot. Its strategic location in the Indian Ocean, situated just 250 miles southwest of India’s southernmost tip, has China drooling and stepping up its charm offensive. China’s got the power: soft-power that is. The Diplomat reports:
On January 28, China announced a plan to construct 1,500 housing units in the Maldives. “We will work with the Maldivian side on how to make the best use of Chinese grant aid and the concessional loans to further benefit the economic and social development of Maldives,” Chinese ambassador Wang Fukang said.The following morning, a Chinese Navy hospital ship, Peace Ark, arrived at the Maldives to provide medical services throughout the country until July 5.The number of Chinese tourists visiting the Maldives also increased by 44.5 percent in 2013, compared with the previous year, according to the Ministry of Tourism of the Maldives.[The Maldivian President] made his first official visit abroad to India on January 1, and said that while the Maldives has “close ties” with China, “nothing will precede ties with India, which are far more precious.”
The Maldives may still be committed to India, but it is apparent that China is bolstering its commitment to the Maldives. China’s investments there fit nicely into the “string of pearls” strategy that some observers claim China is pursuing. The strategy has China steadily collecting regional allies in South Asia in order to smother India, its longtime regional rival.China has been busy expanding its presence in India’s neighborhood, cozying up to Sri Lanka, Nepal and the Seychelles. The People’s Republic has also been vigilant in strengthening its blue-water capabilities, determined to project itself beyond its coastal waters in order to protect its sea-lanes and challenge regional rivals.As we’ve mentioned before, China’s geopolitical aspirations in South Asia are by no means a direct threat to U.S. naval dominance, and if India were faced with a PRC naval challenge, it would certainly not face it alone. Countries like the United States, Australia, Vietnam and Indonesia would seek to maintain the status quo. However, there’s no doubt that the geopolitical sands in Asia are shifting. Observers trying to figure out what the landscape is going to look like later need to understand the nature of the Sino-Indian relationship now.