Maldives airport opened its newly developed Code F runway at the Velana International Airport on Tuesday after two years of construction by Chinese firms.
According to Chinese state media, the new runway is a milestone project of the Belt and Road Initiative.
The contract for the airport expansion, including the development of the fuel farm, a cargo terminal, and the new runway, was signed between China and the Maldives in 2014, Xinhua News Agency reported.
Constructed by Beijing Urban Construction Group, a large international construction group based in China, the new runway is 3,400 meters long and 60 meters wide.
It is the latest push by China to gain influence over the politically troubled nation.
Earlier this year, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency after his power was challenged by the opposition. Dissidents were arrested and legal steps were put in place to cement the president’s hold on power. Yameen is known to have close ties to China and has previously broken off construction contracts with regional power India to hand them over to the Chinese.
Western nations including the US and the EU have released statements expressing concerns at Yameen’s actions with India also expressing its anxiety. The Chinese say they are practicing their policy of non-interference in regards to the Maldives but have continued to economically and diplomatically support Yameen’s government.
China has adopted a “String of Pearls” maritime strategy for increasing cooperation with nations along the shores of the Indian Ocean with the Maldives playing a key role. With a strategic position in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives has value beyond its reputation as a holiday paradise. China sees the island nation as a key link in its Belt and Road Initiative as part of its maritime silk road plan. The islands sit at one of the key points for sea routes that extend from Asia to the Middle East and Africa.
China has concluded long-term lease contracts involving islands in the Maldives and is promoting development projects there. The Maldives has so far this year attracted 726 thousand tourists, of which China accounted for 127 thousand, according to data from Maldives’ Ministry of Tourism.
India is highly nervous about these moves. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi held telephone talks with U.S. President Donald Trump over the Maldivian situation, and they agreed that the rule of law should be respected. Evidently, their move was aimed at restraining China, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.