Maldives government on Tuesday responded strongly to self exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed's comments against the growing Chinese influence in the archipelago, accusing the global super power of land grabbing.
Speaking to reporters in neighbouring Sri Lanka, Nasheed who was convicted of contentious terrorism charges reiterated that China's growing influence in the Maldives threatens the peace and stability in the entire region.
Nasheed who 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, has frequently used Colombo as his hub to meet party officials and host media briefings.
"A large emerging power is busy buying up the Maldives. Buying up our islands. Buying up our key infrastructure. And effectively buying up our sovereignty," Nasheed had alleged.
Government in a statement shared with the international media insisted that Maldives was opening the economy to encourage free trade, with a mindset to compete in today’s global markets.
“This administration came into office with the mandate for economic development and a more prosperous future for its people. We have embarked on a journey to make the Maldivian economy more attractive to foreign investors and to organize ourselves to be better suited to compete in the international economic race,” it added.
Incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom since taking office in 2013 has looked to China to realize his ambitious infrastructure development plans. Beijing has provided loans to fund several major infrastructure projects including a landmark bridge connecting the capital Male to the airport island Hulhule.
Concerns that Maldives would fall into a debt trap like Sri Lanka were further fueled after the island nation signed its first bilateral free trade agreement with China late last year.
The contentious agreement was signed after the official talks between president Yameen and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during the former's first state visit to the global super power in December last year.
Nasheed described the FTA, special economic zones and the constitutional amendment to allow freehold land in the Maldives as "drivers" which enables land grab.
"In land grab we have drivers who drives towards this land grab. Unfortunately we have an autocratic government willing to facilitate the land grab," he added.
Nasheed further warned that a new Maldives government would be forced to review agreements signed with China.
"We definitely subscribe to FDIs [foreign direct investment]. We subscribe to international trade. But we will not subscribe to relinquishing our sovereignty."
The government however, noted that the country had formulated new policies, enacted legislation, entered into agreements and also amended its Constitution in order to remove barriers to free and competitive trade, and adopt more conducive policies.
"We are seeing positive outcomes of these changes, and the Government notes that the Maldives is now one of the most promising destinations for investment and trade in this region,” the statement said.