17 September 2020.
A 2.1km four-lane bridge built with $200m from Beijing. This has helped taxi drivers to earn more from The most lucrative fares from airport arrivals. Prior to the building of the bridge the incoming passengers took a speedboat to go to the main island of Male. Some taxi drivers are earning twice the amount of income compared to days before the bridge was built.
The bridge has also helped residential and commercial properties in the island of Hulumale. This has also led to the easing congestion in the capital for its 140,000 residents.
While many of China’s Belt and Road Initiative projects have been criticised, this Sinamale bridge could be seen as a real success. Mr Mohamed Nasheed, now Speaker of parliament, does not see it that way. According to him Chinese debt amounted to $3.1billion and the Maldives’ GDP of around $4.9bn was not sufficient to service the debt. The government could struggle to service the debt as early as 2023. Mr Nasheed does not want his country to face the same fate as nearby Sri Lanka which could not service its debt and had to gave away its port in Hambantota on a 99-years lease to the Chinese. In addition, Sri Lanka also agreed to give 15,000 acres around the port to China to build an economic zone, thereby renouncing its sovereignty over these lands.
In the meantime, China’s Exim Bank has asked the Maldivian government to pay up $10 million, possibly an unpaid instalment from the total $127 million loan to former Yameen ally and parliamentarian, ‘Sun’ Ahmed Shyam against government guarantee.
According to Mr Nasheed the debt included government-to-government loans, money given to state enterprises and private sector loans guaranteed by the Maldivian government. He also mentioned that the debt on paper is far greater than the money actually received which he said was only $1.1bn. He has not released any document to back up his claim. Mr. Nasheed should let the people of Maldives know the loan guarantees given by the government to the Chinese government.
In a BBC interview, the Chinese ambassador in Male, Zhang Lizhong, dismissed the allegations that the Maldives were facing a debt trap as “a fiction”. Former Maldivian officials and Chinese representatives put the Chinese debt between $1.1bn and $1.4bn. Even this is no doubt a huge sum for the island nation.