China-Maldives Friendship Bridge Photo: Wang Cong/GT
As the Maldives celebrates the opening of the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge - a project Maldivians describe as the project of the century and a dream come true - there was no congratulations from its neighbor to the north. In fact, Indian officials and media, on the contrary, went out of their way to try and discredit the bridge.
After a massive ceremony to mark the opening of the bridge, which was built and largely funded by China, the Times of India reported that India's ambassador to the Maldives had "boycotted" the event. To further discredit the event that drew thousands of locals in great spirit and showcased traditional Chinese and Maldivian performances as well as a spectacular fireworks show, the report even suggested that the Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi ambassadors also "boycotted" the event because their cars were not allowed to drive up to the venue, claiming that only the Chinese ambassador's car was permitted to.
While it is unclear why the Indian ambassador did not attend the ceremony and whether the cars of the Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi ambassadors were prevented from entering the venue, it is certainly not true that the Chinese ambassador was offered special treatment, as suggested by the Indian news reports. In fact, the Chinese Embassy is right across from the park where the ceremony was held, so the ambassador simply walked there and therefore did not need to use a car at all.
It seems absurd that Indian media would go out their way to discredit a project that will undoubtedly bring tangible benefits to Maldivians. But India's frustration toward improving relations between China and the Maldives has been well documented.
Fueled by unnecessary concerns over China's cooperation with the Maldives, which India considers within its sphere of influence, Indian politicians have even threatened to invade the Maldives and have been very vocal about Maldivian domestic politics. Naturally, the India-Maldives relationship has been strained and fraught.
Rather than trying to prevent improving China-Maldives relations through provocation, India should take the time to reflect and learn a lesson from China: that only mutually beneficial cooperation can bring friends closer together and that ill-willed provocation pushes friends away.
Despite all this noise, the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, which connects the capital city of Male to the island where the country's major airport is located, is crucial to the Maldives' economic and social development - it is a project that will directly benefit local residents. China built the project without attaching any conditions. That is why Maldivians, from President Abdulla Yameen to ordinary people on the street, repeatedly expressed gratitude toward China during the ceremony last week.
At the ceremony, when the Chinese government's special envoy to the event Wang Xiaotao said that China will always respect Maldivian independence and territorial integrity, and that China stands ready to help the Maldives in its social and economic development, the audience broke into cheers and applause.
Wang said that the bridge offers a great example of how countries of different sizes can cooperate and treat each other with respect.
More importantly, it should be known that India is welcome to participate in cooperation between China, the Maldives and other countries along the Belt and Road
initiative routes. In fact, India has actually benefited from the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge project. According to officials, up to 100 Indian construction workers were hired for the project.
There is no doubt that India is a major player in South Asia, but if it continues to pursue its relations with its neighbors with a negative, zero-sum game mindset, it could end up in isolation. But if it changes its strategy and actively pursues win-win cooperation with these countries like China does, it would benefit greatly and maintain cordial relations with all players in the region.Newspaper headline: India urged to give up zero-sum mindset