India gives $1.4 bln aid to Maldives amid worry over its China debt

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugs Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in New Delhi, India, Dec. 17. (Reuters)
Updated 18 December 2018
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India gives $1.4 bln aid to Maldives amid worry over its China debt

  • India has long seen the Indian Ocean nation as part of its sphere of influence
  • Solih defeated strongman Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who had forged increasingly closer to ties to China

NEW DELHI: India will give financial assistance of $1.4 billion to the Maldives, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday, the biggest aid yet to the Indian Ocean island nation that is grappling with debt from a Chinese building spree.
Modi made the announcement after talks with Maldives’ new president, Mohamed Ibrahim Solih, who defeated the pro-China strongman Abdulla Yameen in a surprise election result in October and is trying to reset ties with India.
During a five-year construction boom in the Maldives, China built a sea bridge connecting the capital, Male, to the main airport and is developing the airport itself, as well as building housing on land reclaimed from the sea.
But the fast-paced building activity has stoked fears that the Maldives has loaded up on debt that could be anything from $1.5 billion to more than $3 billion.
Solih’s administration has said it is trying to find out just how much the country of 400,000 people owes China.
Modi said India stood ready to help the Maldives as a close friend and neighbor.
“For Maldives’ social and economic development we are providing a financial assistance of $1.4 billion in the form of budgetary support, currency swap agreements and concessional lines of credit,” he said during a brief media appearance with Solih.
Both India and China have been trying to build regional influence in the Maldives and other Indian Ocean countries such as Sri Lanka that lie along vital shipping lanes.
Soon after he took over last month, Solih said state coffers had been looted over the past few years and warned that the country was in financial difficulty after racking up debt with Chinese lenders.
Solih said the Maldives and India had signed agreements to cooperate on trade, health and defense. India would help improve Maldives’ security through joint patrols as well as aerial surveillance, officials said.
India’s big worry has been that China’s expansive diplomacy in the region was aimed at securing an outpost on an island in the Maldives.
Modi said he had discussed regional security with Solih and both had agreed not to allow each other’s territory to be used against the other. 


British boat rescues migrants trying to cross Channel

Updated 38 min 27 sec ago
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British boat rescues migrants trying to cross Channel

  • British border officials have picked up 34 people who were trying to cross the English Channel in a small boat
  • The Home Office said the passengers are thought to be migrants and their nationalities were not known yet

LONDON: A British boat rescued 34 migrants crossing the Channel aboard a small motorised boat on Monday, Britain's interior ministry said.
"Today Border Force responded to an incident in the Channel involving a small boat containing 34 people," the ministry said in a statement.
"The group were brought to Dover and have been transferred to immigration officials for interview," it added, saying that men, women and children were on board and that three men were arrested on suspicion of immigration offences.
French authorities earlier said that "a fishing boat gave the alarm shortly after 8:00 am (0700 GMT)" after spotting the boat off the tip of northern France.
French navy, police and customs launched a helicopter, a tug boat and three fast vessels, while sea rescue services also tried to rescue the migrants.
By the time they reached the migrants' location, however, "they had crossed over to the English side" of the Channel where they were picked up by a British vessel, said the regional authority in northern France.
Two British Border Force cutters and a coastal patrol vessel were involved in the rescue, according to UK authorities.
Some 500 people -- most of them over the last two months of 2018 -- attempted to cross the Channel to Britain last year, compared with just 13 known attempts in 2017.
French interior ministry figures show 276 people successfully reached British waters last year.
London in December dispatched a navy ship to help coastguard boats watch over the 21 miles (33 kilometres) of sea that separate France and Britain at its narrowest point.
France also responded by announcing broader surveillance measures in early January.
The number of Channel crossings was just a tiny fraction of the 55,756 successful attempts made across the Mediterranean to Spain that were recorded by the UN's refugee agency in 2018.