Nasheed warns to end China projects if opposition takes power

Self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed on Friday warned to terminate all Chinese projects in the Maldives if it manages to oust incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and assume power.

Nasheed was jailed on terror charges after he was convicted and sentenced to 13 years in prison over the arbitrary detention of a sitting judge while he was president.

He now lives in self imposed exile in the UK after he was allowed to leave to Britain on medical leave in an internationally brokered deal in January last year.

Maldives has been ravaged by fresh political strife after Nasheed managed to rally all opposition leaders including arch nemesis, former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to pen a historic treaty to work against the government.

In recent weeks, the opposition has scored major victories after wresting parliament majority from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) with help of government lawmakers loyal to the deposed PPM leader Gayoom and his lawmaker son Faris Maumoon.

The elder Gayoom had a major falling-out with half brother president Yameen which has seen the ruling party split into two factions. The former strongman who ruled the country for three decades before being defeated by Nasheed in the first democratic elections in 2008.

Speaking to the Indian Express newspaper from neighbouring Sri Lanka, Nasheed said president Yameen extensive relations with China was a threat to the whole region.

“What is in Maldives’ interest very much depends on what is in India’s interest. “If India feels that its security and safety is compromised in the Indian Ocean, then we must be mindful of that," Nasheed said.

Maldives' relations with the neighbouring giant has been strained after the abrupt cancellation of a contract with Indian infrastructure firm GMR Group to operate the archipelago's main airport, shortly after the premature downfall of Nasheed's government in 2012.

Since president Yameen won the 2013 presidential elections, the country has overlooked India with China funding major infrastructure development in the Maldives, including the nation’s main airport and the ongoing landmark bridge project connecting capital Male with airport island Hulhule.

The Link Road connecting the island wards of southernmost Addu atoll had also been developed with China’s free aid.

Moreover, several Chinese private firms continue to invest in the tourism and construction sectors of the archipelago, especially in the reclaimed suburb Hulhumale.

Nasheed alleged that Yameen had allotted 16 islands to the Chinese that straddle key navigation sea-lanes, and was in talks with Saudi Arabia to give it an atoll.

“Maldives occupies an 800-km geographical expanse from north to south and covers all navigable parts of the Indian Ocean. China has been given several strategically located islands by Yameen to carry out construction projects,” he said.

Nasheed insisted he would terminate these projects if the joint Opposition came to power after next year’s elections.

He admitted that Maldives was in danger of becoming another Sri Lanka, referring to the huge loans that Colombo is having to pay back to China after former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse invited Beijing to build several projects, including an airport and parts of Colombo port and a city.

“Seventy per cent of Maldives’ foreign debt is in hock to one country, China. Our loan interest is more than our joint expenditure on health and education and more than 20 per cent of Maldives’ budget,” he said, accusing Yameen of selling Maldives’ national interest to the Chinese.