Hello defence lovers! In this article, we are going to discuss the diplomatic victory of India over China in the Maldives. On Sunday 21st February, India signed an agreement with the Maldives to develop, support and maintain a harbour at Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF) naval base in the island nation. In this article we are going to discuss why this UTF Harbour agreement is so important for India and why was China so interested to sign this deal with the Maldives.
The Maldives is an island nation located in the middle of the Indian ocean. Historically India and Maldives have always shared warm defence relations. Even India has also saved the Maldives from a military coup. Yes, we are talking about the famous Operation Cactus.
The Maldives is a predominantly Muslim country that has a tourism-dependent economy. It is a very small nation consisting of small islands. But the Maldives is located in an extremely strategically location, almost in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The Maldives is an ideal place to construct a naval base.
The Maldives does not possess a navy. However, its coast guard force is large enough to do what a professional navy does. But obviously, it is not comparable to large navies such as the Indian Navy.
The UTF Naval base Deal Explained
In 2013, the Maldives government approached India for financial assistance for constructing a naval base for its coast guard at the Uthuru Thila Falhu (UTF) island. However, from the Indian side, there were lots of delays.
After such a long duration, almost after 7 years, this agreement was signed on Sunday. India agreed to develop, support and maintain a harbour at Uthuru Thila Falhu naval base. Also, India agreed to give the Maldives a $50 million line of credit to purchase defence equipment from India.
Though it is primarily for the use of Maldivian Coast Guards, it won’t be surprising if the Indian Navy deploys its warships over there and uses it as an Indian naval base in foreign territory in the near future.
Why China Is Interested In UTF Naval Base?
When the Maldives government was frustrated with the delays that the Indian government was making, China saw an opportunity. In 2015, China jumped in an offered its assistance to construct the Naval base at UTF island.
China has already taken Feydhoo Finolhu island for a lease for 50 years. Although it is leased by a Chinese state-owned company, it is not a big deal for China to dock its naval hardware at the island without authorisation from the Maldivian government.
China getting access to Feydhoo Finolhu island is a strategic blunder for India. It poses a serious security threat to India as it is just located in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Though this deal was possible due to the corrupt former president Abdullah Yamin’s anti-India and pro china stance.
China’s string of pearls strategy has become a reality. China has leased Hambantota port in Srilanka for 99 years. It has access to Feydhoo Finolhu island. China has also a base in Djibouti and in Gwader. The Chinese are desperate to encircle India from all four sides.
India just cannot afford China getting another naval base in the Indian Ocean where it could permanently station some warships and men. Thus securing the UTF harbour agreement is a great strategic victory for India.