New Maldives govt could scrap China FTA, Nasheed warns

The new Maldives government could pull out of the free trade agreement with China, former president and one of the four leaders of the government alliance Mohamed Nasheed has warned.

The contentious agreement was signed after the official talks between the then Maldives president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping during the former's first state visit to the global super power in 2017.

The Maldives' fast-tracking of the FTA with China has sparked concerns alleging that Sino-Maldivian trade balance remains considerably in favour of China, and there are concerns that the FTA will further increase the deficit and push Maldives towards a debt trap like Sri Lanka -- an issue that has alarmed Delhi amid apprehensions of neighbourhood plunging into economic crisis in future.

"The free trade agreement is very one-sided... the numbers don't match," ex-president Mohamed Nasheed told the BBC.

The Maldives' parliament would not approve the law required for the trade deal to come into force, he added.

Nasheed recently had warned the Maldivian people to be wary of an emerging colonial power in the Indian Ocean which is aiming to enslave the country.

"An emerging power in the Indian Ocean has its eyes firmly fixed on the Maldives. Yes. I'm talking about China. If the Maldivian people fail to heed the threat, history would repeat itself by the middle of this century," Nasheed had warned.

Nasheed's warning is linked to the debt amassed by the archipelago to China to fund mega development projects initiated by defeated Maldives president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

Beijing has provided grant and loans to fund several major infrastructure projects including a landmark bridge connecting the capital Male to the airport island Hulhule.

Nasheed also said China and Chinese companies have taken over a number of islands in the Maldives on leases ranging from 50 to 100 years.

"If any of these investments (in the islands) are not commercial then we must review it… Nothing was made public in the last five years," the former president said.

According to several media reports, Maldives' president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's transitional teams had discovered that the country owed the Chinese government not USD1.5 billion, as had been widely estimated, but nearly USD3 billion.

However, during an exclusive interview with ‘AVAS’, China ambassador to Maldives Zhang Lizhong rejected the figure as “deeply exaggerated”.

China has defended its much-criticized free trade agreement with Maldives, saying it serves the interests of the two countries and the entire region.