India last week promised to provide the Maldives $500m to fund a project to link the capital, Malé, with three other islands by bridges and causeways. Â
The announcement was made by Abdulla Shahid, the Maldives’ foreign minister, who commented: "Once completed, the project will be the single largest infrastructure project in the Maldives."
Ibrahim Solih, the president of the Maldives noted in a tweet that the agreement was "a landmark moment in Maldives-India cooperation".
India is funding the Greater Malé Connectivity Project using a $100m grant and a $400m loan.
The agreement is being seen as part of a continuing struggle between India and China for influence in the region. Similar competition is under way in Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
The Malé scheme will be three times longer than the 2.1km, $200m China-Maldives Friendship Bridge (pictured), built by China Harbour Engineering. That scheme was completed during the tenure of President Yameen, who was closer to China than the present regime, which came to power in 2018 and promptly renamed it the Sinamalé Bridge.
Yameen was last year convicted of money laundering and sentenced to five years in prison. Among the charges brought against him was awarding contracts, including the bridge and an extension to the islands’ international airport, to Chinese companies at inflated prices.
India has also pledged $250m in budget support during the pandemic, which has stifled the islands’ vital tourist industry. Some 5,300 people have contracted the coronavirus in the Maldives, and 21 have died.
Image: A view of the Sinamalé Bridge, as seen from Hulhulé Island (Panda 51/CC BY-SA 4.0)