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Maldives: India seeks to counter China influence with bridge project

Maldives: India seeks to counter China influence with bridge project

India pledged $500 million (€422 million) towards funding a project in the Maldives on Thursday to help the island nation connect its capital to three nearby islands, as New Delhi seeks a riposte to Chinese influence in the region.

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told his Maldivian counterpart Abdulla Shahid that New Delhi will support the Male connectivity project with a grant of $100 million and a new line of credit of $400 million.

Jaishankar said the plan to connect Male with the islands of Villingili, Gulhifahu and Thilafushi will be the largest civilian infrastructure project in the Maldives.

Read more: Maldives: Fighting corruption and construction in a tropical paradise

"India will fund the implementation of Greater Male Connectivity Project through a $400 million LOC & $100 million grant," Jaishankar tweeted. "This 6.7 km bridge project connecting Male with Gulhifalhu Port & Thilafushi industrial zone will help revitalize and transform Maldivian economy."

The foreign minster also tweeted about economic relations between India and the Maldives. "Connectivity brings prosperity," he said. "Happy to announce the start of regular cargo ferry service between India & Maldives to boost trade & commerce. We're also starting an air travel bubble with Maldives to sustain & promote the dynamic people-to-people ties between the two countries."

China and India exerting influence

The popular tourist destination has become a focal point for the world's two most populous nations, particularly in the wake of China's Belt and Road Initiative aimed at improving trade and transport links.

Previously, the Maldives borrowed heavily from Beijing and contracted Chinese firms for infrastructure projects under former President Abdulla Yameen.

India and the West accused China of saddling countries, such as the Maldives, with unsustainable debts while tightening its grip in the region.

New Delhi has sought to regain influence in the Maldives since President Ibrahim Solih assumed power after defeating pro-China strongman Yameen in nationwide elections two years ago.

Yameen was subsequently convicted of money laundering and sentenced to five years in prison, with his jail-term beginning in February of this year. He was found guilty of awarding construction contracts to Chinese companies at inflated prices.

jsi/dr (AFP, Reuters)