When smaller nations default on loans from China, the country steps in and lays claims to their assets.
So far, China has laid claim to international airports, ports, bridges and in some cases lands financed through predatory lending.
China has already seized control of territories in Sri Lanka, Zambia, and Tajikistan.
Global experts believe the move forms part of China’s strategy to secure its economic and military influence in the world.
It is no wonder that many are now expressing concerns about China’s operations in the Republic of Maldives, a chain of small islands located in the Indian Ocean.
In fact, the Maldives forms the last link in the string of countries, which have been swept under China’s debt trap in India’s subcontinent.
Pakistan, Myanmar (Burma), Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have all been infiltrated.
Sri Lanka is a key example. Last year, Sri Lanka was forced to hand over a Deep Water Port to China’s government after falling into more than $1 billion in debt.
As such, China’s move to purchase lands in the Maldives is fast becoming a global issue of concern.
Earlier this year, Mohamed Nasheed, a former President of the Maldives made a resounding accusation of land grabbing against the Chinese government.
According to the Macau Daily Times, a local newspaper, Nasheed accused China of buying up lands and key infrastructure in the Maldives.
He described China’s growing influence in the Maldives as a land grab in the guise of investments in the island’s development.
The Maldives has embarked on a number of infrastructural projects funded by China.
For instance, a US$210 million Friendship Bridge linking the capital island of Male and an airport island currently under construction — is being financed by China under the contentious Belt and Road Initiative.
There is also the 1,000-apartment housing project on Hulhumale suburb, which is being built under the Belt and Road Initiative.
The initiative is widely regarded as a “debt trap”.
Therefore, critics have warned the Maldives that massive debts could eventually force the country to cede land to China.
The Indian Ocean country, known mostly as a tourist destination, takes in less than $100 million a month in government revenue.
As of January, China accounted for nearly 80 percent of the Maldives foreign debt.
Much of China’s investment in the Maldives went into infrastructure, including roads, bridges and airports.
Foreign News Magazine, Vanuatu Independent, quoted the former Maldivian leader as saying these are ‘vanity projects’, roads going to nowhere, airports that [will sit] empty.”
Nasheed has alleged that China has already taken over lands in 16 islands under the Maldives’ government.
“This land grab exercise hollows out our sovereignty,” he argued.
Once ports have been built on the islands, ‘these commercial infrastructures can very easily become military assets, Nasheed asserted.
Such conversions are ‘very simple’, he said, pointing to a naval base China established in the East African nation of Djibouti last August. For now, the debts to China are accruing interest at high rates.
And the Maldives’ is expected to start payments on this debt by 2019 or 2020.
The former leader has warned that the country would not be able to repay its debts to China, and will eventually be forced to cede land to Beijing.
“If the Maldives falls behind, China will ‘ask for equity’ from the owners of various islands and infrastructure operators, and Beijing will then ‘get freehold of that land,” he said.
Meanwhile, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen has been accused of opening the doors to Chinese investment without any regard for procedure or transparency.
The matter came to the forefront last December after China signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the Maldives.
The FTA was, however, not the only pact that the two nations signed.
In addition to the FTA, a Memorandum of Understanding, (MOU) was signed for the rolling out of infrastructural projects under China‘s Belt and Road Initiative project.
China has extended hundreds of billions of dollars in loans to developing countries under the initiative— most of them have been unable to repay the debts.
When the two countries signed the agreement last December, it came under intense scrutiny from the Maldivian main opposition party.
The opposition had criticized the government over the speed at which the deal was concluded.
According to Reuters, the Maldives parliament signed off on the deal, which included a document of more than 1,000 pages after less than an hour of discussion.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) objected to the signing of the document.
The party noted the FTA contained technical details that should have been thoroughly reviewed.
The Opposition called for its implementation to be suspended until an independent feasibility study is conducted.
But despite the growing fears, Maldives’ Ambassador to China, Mohamed Faisal recently told the South China Morning Post that the country would push ahead with Chinese projects and seek more investment from the country, regardless of concerns raised by regional power India.
Faisal dismissed the claims of land grabbing in the Maldives.
“There has been tension and pressure on the Maldives … the talk of debt traps, land grabs in the nation is because we have been working with China.
“(But) it is part of a global trend now – a lot of people are seeing what China is doing because, in terms of both economically and global power, China is rising.
If we were working with India or the US, people would not be talking.”
Guyana’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Carl Greenidge has been equally dismissive of concerns over the Belt and Road Initiative.
Guyana signed an MOU with China that paves the way for the Belt and Road Initiative to eventually come here. Greenidge, however, criticized Kaieteur News exposure of the ‘China Belt and Road Initiative’.
He contended that MOU that was signed with China is not a loan agreement; it only provides the framework for an agreement between bilateral partners.
Greenidge said that the project should be viewed as “foreign aid.”
It has nothing to do with China, it applies to all aid, whether it is from the United Kingdom, or the United States,” Greenidge stated.
This is the first time China‘s ‘aid’ to Guyana has raised eyebrows.
In 2013, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government took hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to modernize the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), and the Skeldon Sugar Factory Plant.
Those loans are now on the backs of Guyanese. Five years later, the Skeldon plant is yet to process a single grain of sugar.
And while China and the PPP said that CJIA would have been used as a hub for Africa and Asia, that dream is yet to be realized.
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