Decision by the Maldives government to open up islands to foreign buyers has sparked fears that China is poised to seize a foothold in the Indian Ocean
Maldives' government has passed a law which will, for the first time, allow foreigners to purchase land.
But the new law has a sting in its tail.
The constitutional amendment bill, passed by the Maldivian parliament on Wednesday, states that investors must spend at least $1 billion (£640m) to own land on one of the 1,200 islands in perpetuity. Furthermore, 70 per cent of the land must be reclaimed from the Indian Ocean.
And the conditions imposed have sparked fears that the bill is designed to clear the way for the Chinese to set up bases in the Maldives, which straddles vital international east-west shipping routes. China has expertise in reclamation technology and can easily make investments of that size.
India, which considers itself the regional superpower, is already wary of increased Chinese involvement in the area – which it considers to be within its sphere of influence.
A development on one of the nation's many islands (Rex Features)
Eva Abdulla, an MP of with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, said she feared the nation could become a front line for a potential power struggle between India and China.
"We can't ignore the fact there is a cold war brewing between India and China," she said.
"What is in our interest is peace and stability in the Indian Ocean. India is our neighbour and we are not a country in the South China Sea," she said referring to China's dispute with several countries over claims to the area.
Ahead of the vote, President Abdulla Yameen's half brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – the country's former leader – had urged further public debate on the controversial move.
"I have appealed to (the) president to seek public opinion on proposed constitutional amendment re land ownership before ratification," he tweeted.
Anand Kumar, a strategic affairs analyst at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi, agreed that the law could help China gain a foothold in the Indian Ocean.
"They have been creating islands in South China Sea, and they will try to replicate the same exercise in Indian Ocean," he said. "They tried to do the same thing with Sri Lanka. It appears that since they have lost political influence in Sri Lanka, they are trying to regain the same ground in Maldives."
The government has said the move would not threaten the Maldives' sovereignty and was needed to attract large-scale foreign investment for projects.
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