China plays cards with Maldives, India, other players: think tank

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China plays cards with Maldives, India, other players: think tank

Beijing China January 15 ANI Amid the rise in COVID 19 cases driven by the Omicron variant across the world, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Maldives and Maldivians but failed to make gains as nationalist Sri Lankans and Maldivians felt that their sovereignty is being eroded by China through coercive use of debt-trap diplomacy, said a European-based think tank.

The think tank said that Sri Lankans and Maldivians felt that their sovereignty was being eroded by China because of the coercive use of debt-trap diplomacy and that the country's dire economic situation could present vulnerabilities for China to exploit, just as it had done earlier with the Hambantota Port.

Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih has tried to limit Chinese influence and debt trapping by interacting more closely with India and other major players.

Wang Yi didn't seem to make any gains there despite the warm welcome in the Maldives and the cordial tone of the visit.

Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih, who replaced the pro-China leader Abdulla Yameen in 2018 and has since reverted to the island nation's traditionally close ties with India, has played his cards well. Solih has tried to limit Chinese influence and debt trapping by interacting more closely with India and other major players, according to the think tank.

The United States has labeled the Maldives as a debt trap for smaller nations due to the Belt and Road Initiative BRI, part of China's Belt and Road Initiative, like Sri Lanka. The Solih-led regime has also tried to balance the equation with China by showing more interest in the broader Indo-Pacific developments this year. It is likely that it will host the US' first diplomatic mission in the country in the near future, and will be involved with the US in its first annual security and defence dialogue, according to EFSAS.

After completing his Male visit, Wang flew into a Sri Lankan country that has been entangled in a deep economic crisis, with foreign exchange reserves dropping to about USD 1.6 billion in November 2021, enough to sustain a month of imports.

There were concerns about a possible sovereign default because of mounting debt, a currency crisis, and high inflation. During Wang's visit, a host of issues, including tourism, investments, and the fight against the COVID 19 epidemic, were discussed.

According to the think tank, Wang Yi made a new proposal aimed at further expanding Chinese influence in the region during his talks with Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G. L. Peiris. Wang proposed the establishment of a forum for the development of Indian Ocean island nations.

The Center for Global Development says that both Sri Lanka and the Maldives are vulnerable to debt distress under China's BRI. The Maldives is considered to be highly vulnerable while Sri Lanka is assessed to be very vulnerable according to the EFSAS report.