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Rejecting Corruption from China, Maldives to Abort “Belt and Road” Projects

Maldives, a tropical nation in the Indian Ocean, has just had a presidential election. With a looming sentiment to get rid of China’s control, the new government is about to cancel the “Belt and Road” projects that China has promoted, just like the Malaysian government.

According to an October 9 report in the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun, Maldives’ general election took place in September 2018. The pro-China leader Abdulla Yameen stepped down; Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, a politician in favor of cooperation with India, gained support from the opposition and won an overwhelming victory. The election shows a strong nationwide mentality of rejecting China.

In fact, the increasingly corrupt politics that was due to the close ties between Yameen and China pushed the Maldivian people to the limit.

Twice after Yameen was elected as president in 2013 and consolidated his power, he arrested former president Maumoon Gayoom in the name of a “state of emergency,” while suppressing the opposition in the country. The media criticized that Yameen while supporting the Chinese government, learned how not to allow the opposition to speak.

After the election, Yameen was found to have engaged in corruption. In many countries, this has become a common phenomenon for local ruling personnel who got involved in “Belt and Road” projects.

News also emerged that Yameen received $1.5 million in bribes before the election; those who committed the bribery are still unknown. However, the fact that China’s “Belt and Road” projects could go on unimpeded in the Maldives is closely related to Yameen’s having given a green light all the way.

In addition to corruption, being too close to the Chinese government is also a major cause of public dissatisfaction. In the years under Yameen, massive Chinese infrastructure projects were launched. For the Maldives airport expansion project alone, the investment amounted to $830 million. Another project that connects the airport to the sea crossing bridge also cost $200 million. Maldives ended up having deep financial problems.

As of the present time, the Yameen administration has brought Maldives financial liabilities of $1.4 billion, accounting for one-third of the country’s GDP. Seventy-five percent of the debt was generated from the “Belt and Road” projects.

Solih will take office in November 2018. It is widely expected that he will implement a new policy of getting rid of China’s influence, but the huge debt makes the prospect of abandoning the “Belt and Road” project unclear. Leasing individual ports to China, like what Sri Lanka did, may be the last resort.

Solih’s campaign slogan, however, was against Yameen’s China policy and won him public support. How to get rid of China’s huge influence will be a test for Maldives’ new government.

Source: Duowei News, October 9, 2018